DETROIT – To her students, she's known as "Nurse Knuckles."
At the Wayne State College Of Nursing, Donulae Knuckles teaches tomorrow’s 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 life. This is what I do. I love it,” said Knuckles.
Knuckles is a Detroit mother of five, a registered nurse for the past 23 years, a Ph.D. student, a graduate teaching assistant, and an advocate for the American Heart Association.
It’s a full, wonderful life that she loves even more after nearly losing it.
“On November 12, 2014, I came home from working as a nurse at Children’s Hospital. I was there with my daughter, who was 11 years old at the time,” remembered Knuckles. “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 Knuckles' mother.
“I told her, ‘Mom, I don’t know if I’m going to die.’ 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 me I had a stroke.”
Knuckles was just 39 years old.
"Out of the blue," said Knuckles. "No signs, no symptoms, didn't have any precursors for a stroke like uncontrolled hypertension or diabetes."
Tests ultimately revealed that Knuckles was born with a hole in her heart called a patent foramen ovale (PFO).
About 25 percent of people have this defect. In most, 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 -- nothing short of miraculous.
"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, so for me to come back and have no remnants and to be in a Ph.D. program as rigorous as Wayne State University, I'm really grateful," said Knuckles.
She urges others to be proactive about their health and if you get any warning signs, do not ignore them.
“We tend to ignore things. We’ll say, ‘Oh we’ll do it later,’ because we have so much to do for so many other people. We’re usually last on the totem poll, if we even make it,” said Knuckles. “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 non-profit called Love Yourself For Life to help spread that message.
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.
"God granted me the grace, and I'm just going to keep doing it because there's so many people that need this," said Knuckles.
To learn more about reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, and stroke, visit the American Heart Association website.