Community College of Rhode Island

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Devastating stroke strengthens
student's resolve to become a nurse

Dec. 16, 2013

Tracy Accaoui Tracy Accaoui

Life can completely and utterly change in an instant. Tracy Accaoui knows this better than anyone. She was a happy, healthy woman in the prime of her life when an unexpected medical catastrophe turned her universe was turned upside down four years ago.

Accaoui said the last thing she remembers about the day that everything changed for her was that she had been shopping at iParty in Cranston for a birthday party she was throwing for her mother, her cousin and herself. She came home with some balloons, set them down on the floor and passed out. That’s where her memory stops: Accaoui had suffered a life-threatening hemorrhagic stroke.

Her husband called 911 immediately and was able to get Accaoui to the hospital with the aid of police, fire and rescue. Her medical team surmised that the cause of the event was potentially an energy drink that Accaoui had ingested after her workout in combination with her usual morning coffee, to disastrous effect. They had to open her skull to contain bleeding from her brain.

She was in a coma for four days, her family devastated by the doctor’s prediction that Accaoui was not likely to make it out of the coma alive. But against all odds, she not only survived the devastating event, but is now thriving, working to change her life in order to help others by pursuing a nursing degree at the Community College of Rhode Island.

“I want to inspire all who have been through some tough times to let them know that you can get through those times,” she said.

Accaoui has a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Rhode Island and has put that to good use by working as a Realtor as well as a financial planner. But before her stroke, she recognized that she wanted to do something more, specifically in the health care field. “I always loved helping people,” she said, noting that her husband, a practicing physician, encouraged her interest in the medical profession. She had taken a few classes at CCRI and had begun to consider breaking into the field.

She said her resolve to become a nurse was only strengthened by her experience following the coma, where she had to depend on the strength of her faith and family as well as the doctors, nurses and physical therapists who helped her along with her journey. She faced tremendous uphill battles: Things that people take for granted were no longer a given for her, she said. Her short-term memory was nonexistent, her vision was gone in one eye and she couldn’t distinguish between night and day, nor could she tell time using a clock. She even had to learn to walk again through a grueling process of physical and occupational therapy. Because of her vision – which has now returned, thanks to surgery – she had to petition for two years to regain her driver’s license.

All of this left her “totally hopeless,” she said, feeling depressed at the idea that she’d gone from being a healthy, high-functioning professional woman who regularly ran long distances to someone who had to start from square one. Her late godmother visited her weekly, engaging her in conversation to stimulate her brain and speech. Her sister-in-law took six months off of work to keep her company during the rehabilitative process but, still, she felt lost and lonely. However, once she was able to have the requisite procedures to restore her full sight, she felt the warming rays of hope.

“My family kept telling me I could do it, I could get through it. And I did. And I realize how lucky I am,” she said, noting that most people who experience this type of trauma don’t often make it back to full functionality, let alone a new career path and being able to run charity 5Ks on a regular basis. “I’m so blessed.”

Accaoui tried to come back to school after she could drive herself to class once again, but found that it was too soon. She was disheartened by her poor performance in class and realized that her memory and concentration were still not at top form. With the help of her adviser, she was able to drop the class and start fresh. Now, she said, she’s one class away from having all the prerequisites necessary to apply to the CCRI Nursing program.

“There are some fantastic professors here,” she said of her experience at the college. “Every class I take is new and challenging for me because I had no prior background in nursing. It’s changing my life.”

In addition to pursuing her nursing career, Accaoui is taking her experience onto the page in the hopes that she’ll be able to help and inspire others who may be going through harrowing times. She has self-published a book of fiction and is working on an autobiographical piece as well. To those who may be struggling, she advises: “Just keep trying hard, and don’t fall into an abyss and say that you’re never going to be normal again. The sky’s the limit.”


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Last Updated: 1/31/14