Blog 1 - Claudia Fortunato-Napolitano Shares Her Story of Hope and Strength After Surviving a Stroke

Hello, my name is Claudia Fortunato-Napolitano. Eighteen months ago, at the age of only thirty-four, I suffered from a stroke. It was a surprise, to say the least, and I am still recovering today.  Here at John’s Crazy Socks, we want to show what’s possible. In that spirit, I want to share my story to encourage everyone recovering from a stroke, and in the hope that it could prevent you or someone you love from sharing my fate. Here it goes…

I was born and raised in Huntington, NY.  Wanderlust led me to travel as much as I could. I’ve traveled to China, Germany for Oktoberfest, Italy, Ireland, Switzerland, Aruba, Caribbean Islands, France, Spain, The Netherlands, and all over the United States. When I was 23, I lived in London for 4 months. I loved it so much that when I came home from London, I decided I wanted to move there after I finished mydegree. I met my husband at the tail end of my schooling, and he did not want to move…. Yet.

I have a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in History. For 10 years I worked at the Huntington Historical Society, and in the past 3 years, I was the Executive Director. I was so excited to get the position.  I wanted to make a difference, and I wanted the Huntington Historical Society to embark on new programs.  And, quite frankly, I was good at my job. 

January 11, 2017 began as a normal day.  I went to work with a headache, a headache that had lasted for two days, but I decided to stay at work anyway. Lunchtime came, and I went to get lunch for my team.  Toby, Robert, Maria, Wendy, and I were in the office.  I called my parents. They were coming home from vacation in Key West, Florida, and we had made plans to meet for dinner that night.  Then I called my husband, Sean, and I told him about the plans to meet my parents later.  As I came back into the office, I felt dizzy and sat down, then started to feel like I needed an ambulance.  I looked to my co-worker Wendy to tell her to call one, but the words wouldn’t come out.   

I can remember the ambulance coming. I can remember being in the ambulance and looking back at Toby’s face. He looked concerned.  I can’t remember much of what happened next, but I do recall Sean showing up with my sister, Christina, and then someone said we are going on a helicopter.  This is where I went blank and stayed that way for the next 4 days.   

People told me that I was recovering from my first stroke.  All I know is since that day, I’ve had problems with my words. Once, I was an avid public speaker. I loved public speaking. Now, I go to speech therapy. My speech therapist, Judy Cavallo, is the owner of New York Speech Solutions.  I’m still not speaking right, and I don’t know if I ever will.  That’s a hard thing to accept, but I’m trying.

I knew I had to make changes in my career because of the new challenges I faced from the stroke.  I left the Huntington Historical Society and got a job at John’s Crazy Socks.  I’m in charge of donation boxes.  I don’t have to write the grants reports or the e-newsletter which is good because I have a bit of difficulty writing.  I am excited to work here.  I think because there are so many people who are differently abled who work here. Mark Cronin, the president of John’s Crazy Socks, told me that I am going to celebrate soon because I will realize through working here that my differently abled self is my fabulous self.  Besides John’s Crazy Socks, I work two other jobs: I am the Assistant Historian at the Town of Huntington, and I am a Disney travel agent.  It is a crazy schedule, but I love all three of my jobs.

I am married to Sean Napolitano, and I am the proud mother of London, my black lab mix which we got from the North Shore Animal League.  We adopted London on the one-year anniversary of my stroke.  He is 8 months and getting so big…. 65 pounds already. We love him. I live a great life. We don’t have a lot of money, but that never bothered us.  I thank the higher powers that I am alive. At thirty-five years old, when I think of the rest of my life… it’s hard.  But I try, that’s all I can do. 

I want to share my journey to recovery with you. It won’t be easy, butI hope that you read myblog and find some strength and inspiration to get through any hardships you may face.