Karen knew she could thrive with type 2 diabetes if she managed it well. Then circumstances interfered with her medication plan and she suffered a stroke.
Karen Dawson has played several roles on television, film and stage roles during her career.
Acting work is famously unsteady though, so she also worked in the health care industry, first as a radiological technologist and more recently, as a phlebotomist.
Being in the health care field—and having a family history of type 2 diabetes and heart disease—Karen, was familiar with the condition when she was diagnosed in her 40s after experiencing intense stress and grief over her mother’s battle with lung cancer.
“I took care of her until she crossed over, and then everything hit me,” she said.
When Karen was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, she knew as long as she managed it well she could live a long, otherwise healthy life.
“Once you understand the disease and what it takes to live with it, it’s not that scary,” she said.
Following her diagnosis, Karen started daily walks and cut back on sugary desserts. She also took medicine to help manage her blood glucose and high blood pressure.
But in 2019, Karen’s work hours were cut and she lost her health insurance, car and apartment. As a result, she couldn’t afford her medication. She stopped taking her pills and the consequences were severe.
One night, Karen developed a severe migraine headache. When she woke up the next morning she couldn’t open her left eye. She drove herself to the hospital where she worked, but instead of starting her shift, she walked into the emergency room. After a full examination, the neurology team told her she’d had a stroke.
“I was emotionally numb,” she said. “I knew better and I never thought I’d be in this position. It was hard to accept.”
A few weeks later, an EKG showed evidence of a past heart attack. Unable to access rehabilitation therapy, she sought advice from a friend, fellow actor and home health care nurse, Carla Valentine, who suggested Karen change things up, for example, by using her left hand instead of her right to brush her teeth, or by taking a different route to the grocery store.
“It’s a way to stimulate your brain,” Valentine explained. “It’s good for anyone, especially somebody who’s had a stroke.”
“In my opinion, it worked,” Karen said.
Since her stroke, Karen has doubled down on her already healthy diet, cutting out red meat entirely, loading up on vegetables and replacing white rice with brown in her stir fries. And she stays fit by swimming in the community pool at her new apartment complex.
Most importantly, she began working a full-time job with health benefits, enabling her to fill her prescriptions, which she never misses.
Sometimes, she admits, the events of the past few years weigh on her.
“It can be difficult, but I keep a positive attitude and put one foot in front of the other,” she said.
Much to her agent’s delight, Karen recently started auditioning again. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the process is done remotely, and she usually recruits a neighbor to read for the other role. It’s not quite the same rush as doing it in person, but Karen is nothing if not flexible—and determined.
“Acting has always been my passion and I have always pursued it to the fullest,” she said. “God willing, it will take off this time.”