How I survived Cancer, Meningitis and a Stroke, and Still Wake Up Smiling….

Hey there. I am Amy Hirsch, the owner of Precision Pilates and Wellness. This is my story of how I came to be a Pilatista, and how I over came many obstacles that make me, me. Corny, I know, but we all have a story.

This is an important part, because I am not just some fitness buff, who decided one day to hang a shingle and teach Pilates. My story comes from a long journey with lots of roadblocks. Fitness, be it weight training, running, swimming or Pilates, has been an integral part of over coming obstacles in my life.

This was taken 3 months after I had meningitis and a stroke.
Pilates and fitness saved my life.

If Pilates saved me, it surely can help you be a better version of you.

Before we start, there are 3 things I want you to know about me…

  1. I LOVE my clients, and will do almost anything to help them succeed – even when it’s not Pilates and Fitness related.
  2. I’m passionate about health and ways to feel great from the inside out. I can ramble on for hours and hours about different ways to support the body with whole foods, how to burn some extra calories…Sometimes a buzz kill when you’re sitting at friendly’s.
  3. My clients see results.

Here’s How My Clients Describe Me…

Knowledgeable, Supportive, Flexible ~ Irene C.

Inspiring, Passionate, and Relentless (in a good way) ~ Denise S.

Energetic – Dedicated – Fearless ~ Pat S

Truly cares for her clients. She’s very informative and encouraging. She’s always challenging and motivates you to do your best. ~ Terri S

A LITTLE ABOUT ME…

I grew up in Farmingdale, at a time when it was still possible for my mom to stay home with us. My grandmother, Rosie, lived in our converted garage.   My dad was a gas turbine operator for Con Edison–our own little “Homer Simpson”. We were well taken care of. Not spoiled, but not really wanting for much. My sister and I both were swimmers. I danced, and loved being creative.

For the most part, my sister and I had a normal childhood until April 1988.   That was the month I found a lump in my neck. At first the doctors thought I had “Mono” again, gave me antibiotics, and sent me on my way. Two weeks later, the lymph node was still swollen, and off I went to the general surgeon. I had it removed under local anesthetic ( I still remember Dr. Becker saying to the nurse “move that vein”). The results were stage 2A Hodgkin’s Disease, and 6 months of chemo and radiation therapy. I missed the rest of 7th grade with home tutoring while I recouped from my spleen being removed.

I remember other kids telling me that they could not be near me because they could catch cancer, or their moms told them I was going to die. A really good friend, Russell Laky, stuck with me. Russell would drop off flowers on his way to school or a craft I could do during chemo at the hospital.

Camp and An Adventure

My mom found a really great camp for me to go to called “The Hole In The Wall Gang Camp”. This was a brand new camp for children with cancer started by Paul Newman, “Ol’ Blue Eyes”.  I spent my next 5 summers there, and made some of the best friends. Unfortunately, most did not survive.

This is the arts, woodworking, and music studios at The Hole In the Wall Gang Camp.

I was able to go back to school for 8th grade, just missing days for treatment. I learned early not to procrastinate, and get my work done early.  This is where I believe my work ethic came from. My clients often ask if I have a secret to extending the day.

To this day, I swear, exercising helped me recover quicker during my chemo and radiation therapy. I had less hospital stays due to infections, and less days away from school and activities.

In February,  Make-A-Wish granted me a wish to go to Disney World. Off we went to sunny Orlando! While we were at Disney, my sister banged her leg on the runaway train…best thing that ever happened. As a result of investigating a bruise on her leg, she was diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkin’s and Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma…here we go again.

Not to sound selfish….but this was my cancer….

Things seemed quiet after my sister finished her chemo and radiation, and we got back to life as regular teenagers. I continued to dance and swim, and then I added lacrosse, kick line, and cheerleading.

Fitness Became My Obsession

I loved school, and being with my friends. I started using fitness to control my world, since the previous few years were a bit out of my control. My love for working out was so big that, for my sweet sixteen, I asked for a weight set and bench instead of a gold name plate like all my friends. Jane Fonda, Kathy Smith, and Cher were my favorites. I read Muscle and Fitness magazine avidly.

Mary Washington College – Farmingdale College – Adelphi University

Both of us ( my sister and I) were the first in our family to go to college.   Tracy went to Wagner for teaching, and I started at Mary Washington College as a dance/pre-med major. I HATED the South, and came home after one semester. I finally found my passion when I went to Adelphi for exercise physiology. Bob Otto and John Wygand became my mentors, along with some really inspiring support staff.

While in my undergraduate and graduate program, I decided to look at immunology and exercise. A ha! I was right, it does help you stay healthier, and develop more white blood cells to fight those infections. Exercise did help me get through Chemo and Radiation a smidge easier than my friends at Schneider’s Children’s Hospital.

After graduating, I got my first job as an exercise physiologist at the Hofstra Health Dome. That’s when I decided to try my hand at PA School. I got in, and hated it. I met my husband, Ari, at a class that was a pre-requisite–dissecting cats.

Life After College

I moved on to working at the Mid-Island Y JCC, running the cardiac rehab and the fitness department. That is when I learned about Pilates. Pilates was just coming to the “Island”.  We had an instructor that would come from NYC, and canceled last minute all the time. As director, I decided to get certified to be the cover person. I loved it and never turned back!

Marriage, two Huskies, and land brought Ari and I to Smithtown. At this point, I was working per diem at Huntington Hospital in their Cardiac Rehab, teaching Pilates at yoga studios, and traveling a lot to people’s home for private sessions. I decided to take the leap and get fully equipment certified in 2006 by Power Pilates–all while being pregnant with my first child, Jarod.

I looked locally, and found a studio close to home where I honed my skills, and developed my Pilates eye. After 5 years, and another child, Rachel, I decided to leave the studio and go on my own. I wanted to be more present in my family.

I started first with just private sessions, then duets and small group.   Everything was great, I had a loyal following, and lots of clients who became more like family. I loved what I was doing. I love changing lives, and helping my clients feel amazing.

Meningitis – Stroke – Deaf – Oscilopsia

(I cannot make this stuff up!)

On March 28th, 2015, I came down with a stomach virus while teaching Yoga at my daughters day care (oh, I forgot to mention that in the middle of all this I got certified as a children’s yoga instructor). Well, it was not a stomach virus. By the next night, my head hurt so much I could not walk straight. I called Ari at work, and he took me to SBUMC. I had meningitis, streptococcus pneumonia.

As if that was not enough, when I finally woke up three days later, I kept saying “my ear is clogged, I can’t hear you”. I lost complete hearing in my right ear. A day or two later, I mentioned to the doctors that their heads were sliding off their bodies as they spoke with me. Kinda like the movie with Tom Cruise (I thought it was some real good pain meds). MRIs and CAT scans galore revealed I had a stroke in my left cerebellum, my balance center. I could not hear, I could not tolerate light, and now I could not stand on my own two feet. I literally just ran 5 miles! Count them, 5 miles the day before I went to the hospital!

What the h-ll was going on? Ari was a g-d send. He stayed with me every moment he could. My parents flew in from Florida. I can only imagine how witchy I was. I went to rehab to learn to use my legs again. It was not that I could not walk, it was more that my balance and stability was knocked out of me.

Rehabbing It My Own Way

Pilates, saved me. My physical therapists could not believe how hard I wanted to work. They kept telling me to rest in betweens sessions.  “I can rest when I am dead,” I would reply. I knew how to find my core and how to use it to stabilize. Now I just need to connect it to my legs. A week later I was home!

Being fit precluded me from most in-home programming, since my new baseline was above normal. But, to me, I wanted to be the Amy I was before Meningitis.

I relied on friends and clients to take me to doctors appointments, PT, eye therapy, and acupuncture. A month later, I saw my first client again. I started going for walks and secretly running so I could be in fighting shape again. I had a goal to compete at the Suffolk County Half Marathon that September. My friend, Janette, and the folks at Smithtown Running Club cheered me on and hit the pavement with me. I finished the Half Marathon, and then, a few weeks later, ran my favorite Cow Harbor Race.

I had too much to do in this life — change lives, to make people stronger, more confident. Nothing was going to stop me.

It took 6 months before I could drive again, although all the doctors were fine with me driving 2 months post. It took 18 months before I could run and read again (the treadmill is where I do most of my continuing education). After about two years, I was able to hear small sounds in my right ear, but I still need my my hearing aids to hear conversations.

Obstacle after obstacle, I keep coming back, setting new goals, re-evaluating where I am, and how I can make me better. I’ve learned to envision the positive. The way I see it, my glass is full and over flowing. I love life. I love my husband, and I love my children and family. The best part is I get to share this with my clients, and help them be the best they can be in the moment.

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