Tammy Farris, who had been dancing most of her life, suffered a severe stroke in October 2011 that left the professional dance instructor wheel chair-bound, unemployed, and minus insurance. The South Florida Dance Showcase on Jan. 20 at Broward College is dedicated to help get her and other stroke victims back on their feet.
“My mother was told to get my things in order because they did not think I was going to make it,” Farris said. “I was found hours after passing out and immediately rushed to the hospital for surgery. They drained the blood out of my brain and performed a tracheotomy to clear my lungs. I don’t remember my first month in intensive care.”
Farris experienced the classic stroke symptoms of numbness on her left side and dizziness prior to passing out and attributes the stroke itself to high blood pressure and stress. In just a few months since the October stroke, she has regained partial use of her left arm and is attempting to learn to walk.
Like millions of Americans, Farris did not have insurance at the time of the stroke. She was teaching at Dance Gallery in the South Miami area after giving up her own studio to enable her to teach fulltime. Dance Gallery has sponsored several fundraisers on Farris’ behalf and they sell “Hope You Can Dance” bracelets for her, but more help is needed.
“I applied for Medicaid and finally did receive it but they do not cover occupational therapy so I started doing it on my own to continue to improve. I made so many calls to so many organizations but as soon as they found out I was a stroke victim they would say ‘oh, we don’t take stroke victims.’”
A branch of Medicaid called Medica offers limited occupational therapy which apparently Farris already has used up and so she continues to make calls to find a way to get help while doing what she can on her own — a risky gamble.
“I am living with my mom now and we have modified the house so I can take a shower in the wheelchair but there are so many things you cannot do with only one arm. I can’t cook; I can’t fold laundry. I have fallen four times already and, thank God, I have not split my head open because one time I landed on my face on the ceramic tile. This is why so many stroke victims end up back in the hospital,” Farris said.
A life of immobility to a lifelong dancer brought up in the studio of her mother, Virginia Harris, is not a proposition Farris is willing to accept.
“When something tragic and unexpected happens in life you have to fight. I believe you can achieve anything you desire if you work hard enough and believe in yourself,” Farris said.
Apparently this is the style of leadership she taught her nearly 500 students during the course of her career thus far.
“Her students love her and want to do more for her,” said Rosemary Baker, Dance Gallery director. “She has been in the dance community a long time and is very well known. She really relates to the students.
“Tammy is able to get on their level and explain things in a unique and effective way. If she is teaching ballet, for example, she makes it fun. Ballet is not fun for a lot of students but Tammy could make it fun for everybody.”
Many of Farris’ alumni have gone on to dance for the Miami Heat, the Miami Dolphins, and performed on national and international stages such as on the television program So You Think You Can Dance. Some have left travel engagements to come back to town and teach master classes to benefit Farris. Recently a group of students at Dance Gallery decided to post messages about the difference she has made in their lives.
“You are my motivation,” Alexis Browning said.
“You not only inspired me to dance but also to stay strong and always keep your head up,” Stephanie Pujol said.
“You are one of the best teachers I have ever had, not only an inspiration but also a role model,” Casey Ruiz said.
The First Annual South Florida Dance Showcase to Benefit Stroke Victims is Friday, Jan. 20, 7 p.m., in the Omni Auditorium at Broward College North Campus, 1000 Coconut Creek Blvd.
Call Tammy at 305-323-9041 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.