While standing in the parking lot of H-E-B back in 2021, Kristi Schiller came to the startling realization that she didn't know where she lived — or even her name.
It was 11 a.m., and the Texas philanthropist had spent the last two and a half hours shopping. Now she was waiting for her groceries to be loaded into her car.
When the employee asked her how long she's lived in the area, she couldn't answer.
"I had this raging headache and didn't know my name, didn't know where I lived," she recalls. "I was becoming more discombobulated as I stood there, and the poor kid loading my car could see I was rattled."
Thankfully, her husband, John, called her and gave directions on how to get back home.
Since then, 52-year-old Kristi estimates she's had a least a dozen days like the one in the parking lot. Symptoms have ranged from crippling migraines and neck pain to stuttering and short-term memory loss.
Little did she know, the symptoms she was experiencing were likely the warning signs of a stroke.
A Surprising Diagnosis
Kristi, a Quarter Horse breeder and founder of the nonprofit K9s4COPS, dedicates her life to helping people. But now she found herself in a place where she needed help.
She went to the doctor in 2021, and an MRI showed she had suffered multiple strokes. She couldn't believe this happened to her — after all, she was healthy and didn't drink alcohol or smoke.
Nonetheless, she was admitted to Houston Methodist. She spent a month in the hospital before returning home to Schiller Ranch near College Station.
The hardest part of recovery was losing her voice and learning to speak again.
"The most humbling thing in the world is sitting in speech therapy and trying to learn about Jose putting an apple in his plaid coat and sharing it with his friend on the bus," she says. "It sounds like nothing, but then trying to say something like that is difficult."
But with the help of her medical team and daily medication, she is nearly recovered.
Support on the Journey
Kristi's family and friends have been there to support her through it all.
They include her husband and daughter, Sinclair. Her friends, Alissa Blow and Kristin Brown, have also been by her side, along with Houston Police Sgt. Stuart Red and Harris County Sheriff's Sgt. Chris Moore who helped run K9s4COPs.
"When you have a great support system, you just aren't as scared," she says.
Kristi is still involved with K9s4COPs, which helps fund the purchase of K9s for public safety agencies. She also launched K9s4KIDs, an organization providing trained K9s to schools and universities to make them a safer place for students, faculty, staff and visitors.
And now, she is using her platform — which includes 139,000 followers on Instagram — to advocate for stroke awareness and prevention, and sharing her story with The American Heart and Stroke Association.
Spreading the Word
According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer worldwide, with stroke ranking second in the United States. Kristi is determined to share her story to raise awareness about the warning signs of strokes and how to prevent them.
She stresses the importance of knowing your family’s medical history and because the signs of a stroke can be different for everyone, she urges people to get regular check-ups and not ignore symptoms.
"Just because you're a certain age, don't think it can't happen to you because you have a healthy lifestyle," she says. "You still need to be aware."
A stroke may have stolen Kristi’s voice for a while, but it couldn't steal her spirit. She is living proof that determination and strength can overcome any obstacle.