Multiple-stroke survivor Keturah J. White, 34, breaks stereotypes about what a congenital heart patient looks like.
The resident of Bentonville, Arkansas, is an active advocate for everyone — especially people of color — dealing with health issues. She honors her mother’s memory in everything she does.
Keturah J. White knows about breaking stereotypes. She’s a 34-year-old Black model and actress who, after being born with a heart condition, has suffered strokes her whole life.
“Some people are surprised to learn of my health history,” said Keturah, who had three strokes in 24 hours seven years ago. “One thing they’ll say is, ‘You don’t look like it.’ And I’ll think, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t realize heart conditions had a look.’”
Those setbacks encouraged her to find the positive in her situation. Today, she’s an active ambassador for the American Heart Association sharing her story in the hopes of letting people know that all races and ages are affected by heart disease.
“I always start my story talking about my mom,” said Keturah, of Bentonville, Ark. “In all honestly, the reason I do everything I do now is my mother. She’s my reason why.”
Keturah was born two months early after her mom, Phyllis, stopped chemotherapy and radiation treatment for a brain tumor. Her premature birth was the likely reason Keturah had a hole in her heart that failed to close correctly, a condition called patent foramen ovale.
Her mom died when Keturah was a toddler, so she was raised by her grandmother, Earnestine Russell, along with others in her community. She grew up knowing little about her heart condition other than she had a murmur, but not understanding its seriousness.
“As I got older, I realized the magnitude of my mom stopping her treatment,” Keturah said. “For her to make that choice to have me so fearlessly, clearly means I was meant to be here. I want to walk in my purpose so when I stand before God he’ll tell me ‘well done’ instead of showing what my life could have been.”
In 2013, Keturah was a 26-year-old mom working long hours as a 911 dispatcher. When she started having severe headaches and unexplained pain, she thought she had a brain tumor like her mom did.
Doctors initially told her she simply had anxiety. But she knew something was truly wrong.
Keturah said she had her first stroke while on the phone at work trying to save someone else’s life. She was able to drive herself home and then after passing out again and being incoherent when trying to communicate, she was taken to an emergency room. Once there, she wasn’t prioritized because she lacked typical stroke symptoms.
So she endured repeated medical tests that week to figure out her health problems.
Finally, an MRI at another hospital led to the discovery that she had three strokes in 24 hours. She also had lesions on the left side of her brain, an indication that she probably had multiple strokes over the years. And, she said, doctors determined that the pain labeled as “anxiety” was actually blood clots passing through the hole in her heart.
Now, the mom of three boys uses her family’s history of heart disease and stroke as motivation to help others as a fitness coach and community leader.
Keturah is a 2017 AHA National Stroke Hero Award recipient and was a spokesperson for You’re the Cure. She serves as advocacy/health and wellness chair of the Arkansas Urban League Young Professionals – Northwest; and she is on the diversity and inclusion task force for the Junior League of Northwest Arkansas.
As a model and actress, she has been a part of several editorials, runway shows (such as Northwest Arkansas Fashion Week) and worked in commercials and corporate videos. She also appeared in a designer’s campaign in British Vogue.
Keturah considers herself “very blessed.” Other than lingering memory problems, she has few side effects from her heart conditions, she said.
“When I say ‘advocate for yourself,’ it means you have to know your body,” she said. “Especially for women, we are so used to taking care of everyone else and we worry about ourselves later. Making self-care a priority is important because we are wearing our bodies down trying to care for everyone else.”