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Detroit nurse shares story of health scare to stress importance of self-care to next generation

Donulae Knuckles recovers after surgery for hole in her heart

DETROIT – A Detroit nurse is sharing the story of her serious health scare to stress the importance of self-care to the next generation of nurses.

Donulae Knuckles is known as “Nurse Knuckles,” and when she’s teaching, her most important lesson comes from when she suddenly found herself as the patient.

Local 4 spoke with Knuckles on National Wear Red Day, which is designed to raise awareness for women’s cardiovascular health.

Knuckles is a Detroit mother of five and a registered nurse for the past 23 years. She’s a PhD student, a graduate teaching assistant and an advocate for the American Heart Association.

At the Wayne State College of Nursing, Knuckles teaches the next generation of nurses to care for the whole patient -- body, mind and spirit. She wants them to care for themselves, too.

“It has become my passion and my purpose in this life,” Knuckles said. “This is what I do. I love it.”

She said it’s a life she loves even more after she almost lost it.

“On Nov. 12, 2014, I came home from working as a nurse at Children’s Hospital,” Knuckles said. “I was there with my daughter, who was 11 years old at the time. Suddenly, my vision started to change. It felt as if my eyes were rolling up into my head. I didn’t understand what was happening and I felt my life slipping away.”

Her daughter called 911, and then called Knuckles’ mother.

“I told her, ‘Mom, I don’t know if I’m going to die,’” Knuckles said. “It was that serious, so after that word, I don’t remember anything else. Apparently I blacked out, and when I did awaken, I was in the hospital and they told me I had a stroke.”

Knuckles was just 39 years old.

“Out of the blue,” Knuckles said. “No signs, no symptoms. I didn’t have any precursors for a strike, like uncontrolled hypertension or diabetes.”

Tests revealed Knuckles had been born with a hole in her heart called a PFO. About 25% of people have the defect. In most cases, it causes no problems, but it can raise the risk of suffering a stroke.

Knuckles had surgery to close the hole in her heart. Her recovery was nothing short of miraculous, doctors said.

“There was a point where I could not walk. I could not talk. I was actually blind, and my face dropped on my right side,” Knuckles said. “For me to come back and have no remnants and to be in a PhD program as rigorous as Wayne State University -- I’m really grateful.”

She urges others to be proactive about their health. She said if there are any warning signs, don’t ignore them.

“We tend to ignore things,” Knuckles said. “We’ll say, ‘Oh, we’ll do it later.' Because we have to much to do for so many other people, we’re usually last on the totem pole, if we even make it. Self-care is not selfish. It’s important. It’s necessary so women -- we care for others, but we need to take time to care for ourselves, and ‘love yourself for life’ is our mantra to remind women, men and everybody. Love yourself. Understand what you have, because if you love yourself, you’re going to take care of yourself."

Knuckles has started a nonprofit organization called Love Yourself For Life to help spread the message. They’re holding an even Friday night.

She also owns Knuckles Health Education Services -- a company that teaches CPR, first aid and other critical safety skills, including the skills her own daughter used to help save her life.

You can show your support for women’s heart health by attending the Detroit Go Red For Women luncheon at 10 a.m. Feb. 21 at Little Caesar’s Arena. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will deliver the keynote address and Local 4′s Kimberly Gill will be the emcee. Click here to visit the website.


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