WHITEMARSH ISLAND, Ga. (WSAV) – The American Heart Association (AHA) says someone has a stroke every 40 seconds. In fact, people in the Southeast — also known as the stroke belt — are 34 percent more likely to have one.

More than seven million people in the United States have had a stroke. Some of those survivors are sharing their stories — while the American Stroke Association celebrates its 20th year — to raise awareness and prevent what they call the “leading cause of preventable disability.”

Tara MacInnes is one survivor who has pushed through several minor strokes throughout her early life. She grew up asking questions about her symptoms, which many doctors were unable to accurately diagnose.

“I was having blurred vision, numbness, weakness, paralysis throughout my entire body,” she said.

Years later, doctors were able to figure out the problem. They diagnosed MacInnes with a rare disease called Moyamoya. At 17-years-old, she had to have two emergency brain surgeries.

Since then, McInnes has been stroke-free. Because of her fight with the disease and her interest in the Coast Guard, she decided to reach out to a man who lived across the country: Sean, someone with a story that is similar to hers.

“All of a sudden, I woke up and had terrible headaches, and they continued on continued on,” he said.

Doctors discovered that an undetected brain aneurysm ruptured. He had a massive stroke and spent two months in a coma.

“And from there, I was just kinda laying in bed, looking around, trying to figure out what in the world is going on,” he said.

After talking online, Sean and Tara met in person and, eventually, fell in love. The two survivors are now happily married and have a dog, who is also a stroke survivor. The family wants to bring attention to different issues related to stroke.

Mr. McInnes says he wants people to know that a stroke can happen to anyone.

Ms. McInnes says she wants the medical community to be aware of moyamoya and its symptoms.

But together, the pair is a walking example of how perseverance can help in the worst of times and how that can lead to some of the best of times.

Next Thursday, the McInneses will speak and model at a fashion show during the Go Red for Women luncheon. They were chosen to be the featured “Share Your Heart” story. Tickets are still available at this link.

The American Heart Association (AHA) says the following are indicators that someone is having a stroke:

  • Face drooping
  • Arm weakness
  • Speech difficulty

Call 911 immediately after noticing these symptoms. AHA says you are more likely to recover from a stroke if you are treated quickly.