Busta’s Person of the Week: Faith is not just a word, but a way of life for this 2020 Piedmont Triad Remarkable Woman award winner

Janet Riley-Wright, two-time stroke survivor, substance abuse and domestic violence advocate.

Busta’s Person of the Week: Faith is not just a word, but a way of life for this 2020 Piedmont Triad Remarkable Woman award winner
March 19
10:15 2020

By Busta Brown

“A lot of people use the word faith lightly and really haven’t been challenged by their faith. But that’s how I got through it, because I really, really, really trust in God,” said Janet Riley-Wright. 

What Riley-Wright got through are two strokes. After surviving the second stroke this past August 2019, she was struck by an SUV while walking to her car after work. Through it all, she hasn’t lost her faith or sense of humor. “I didn’t have a stroke when I got hit. That’s a good thing,” she said while laughing out loud. 

She continued laughing and had me cracking up as well. “Hey, that’s when I should’ve had a stroke, when that big old vehicle hit me. It weighs a ton and I weigh 140 pounds,” Riley-Wright said. Laughter is truly good for the soul. Janet said there were no signs that she would ever have a stroke “… other than my grandfather and father both had heart decease. I didn’t take medicine, other than my allergy medicine,” she boasts. 

But that was about to change. “The first time, I got up one morning and didn’t feel well, and didn’t know why. And the odd thing was, when I spoke with my son on the phone, he said, ‘You don’t sound good.’ I was probably already stuttering and slurring, and my son didn’t know how to identify it. I told my son that I don’t feel good either, which was abnormal for me. I never tell anyone I don’t feel good,” Janet said. She went to work that morning and that’s when everything took a turn for the worse. 

During her 30-minute drive to work, she could tell something was mentally and physically out of character. But, by the grace of God, she arrived safely. While at work, she felt off task. “I went to a couple of meetings at the wrong time and location. I was sitting in the dark waiting for the meeting to happen. Then my supervisor called me because I wasn’t at another meeting. I went to the meeting, but I don’t remember anything we talked about,” she said as she snickered and smiled. After the meeting, she remained off task and out of character. “I went back to the other meeting I thought I was supposed to go to and waited in the dark again. Finally, the meeting happened and I don’t know what happened in that meeting either,” said Janet, while cracking up and having me in stitches as well. She’s amazing! Not once did the two-time stroke survivor allow me to feel sad or sorry for the tough journey. Instead, she cleverly made it very entertaining and enjoyable. 

During the parts of the story that would normally make me cry or have a heavy heart, she made it fun and exciting and had me laughing. Janet was hilarious and inspiring at the same time. She continues telling her story, while giggling off and on. “Busta, I don’t remember anything about my day at the job, other than going to my office, trying to send an email and I couldn’t do it for the life of me.” Her supervisor noticed something was wrong and offered to take Janet home. “I thought it was ridiculous because I still wasn’t aware that something was wrong. I just knew something was aggravating the fire out of me. I continued trying to send an email and out of nowhere, I fell over in the chair,” she said. 

At that point, she had a more serious tone and delivery. “I could hear my supervisor yelling for help. She yelled, ‘This is not a drill, this is real. This is real!’ Which is what we say when it’s an emergency. The nurse took my blood pressure and it was 240 over 140, which most people say I should have been kinda dead.” After she shared that heavy information about “being kinda dead,” she snickered and then giggled a bit. 

Janet is a true warrior for peace and love. She refuses to allow hers or anyone else’s spirit to stay down. 

Her first stroke happened January 20, 2012. Janet was eventually admitted to the hospital. The stroke affected her ability to walk, remember things, and her speech was slurred. She was barely able to move her arms as well. The stroke hit her hard. “The only time I really felt devastated was when I thought about how I was going to take care of my family. I needed to figure out how much I could do to keep going. So I thought about what I could do, over what I couldn’t do. When my relatives would visit, they’d laugh at me. They would say, ‘Every time we see you, you got your make-up on and dressed nice.’ I said yes, because this is what I can do,” she said. And then with that beautiful smile and refreshing giggle, she says, “I couldn’t go anywhere, but I knew how to look good. And then I’d sit right back in that same spot on my bed.” 

The superwoman never gave up her trust in God. She was as diligent and hardworking as an athlete with her physical therapy. Couple that with the love and support of family and friends and Janet recovered like a trooper.

Then four years later, January 2016, it hit her again. She strikes a bright smile, pauses for a few seconds, and says, “I began to dislike the month of January for awhile, Busta. I hadn’t been to the hospital for over a year, everything was going very well. I remember celebrating the fact that my health was great.” 

Then one Sunday morning during church service, something felt out of character. Yet again, “… my arm was getting numb, I wasn’t feeling well. And my mom sits a few pews away from me and I didn’t walk down to give her a hug, which I normally would do. But I didn’t think I could, so I didn’t. My mom came to me and gave me a kiss. As soon as she kissed me, I knew. And then I turned to my daughter and said, “I’m not going to make it. Call 911 now!” When her daughter made the call, Janet collapsed. Her family and church members began praying. 

God heard their prayers, but Janet Riley-Wright doesn’t believe in prayer without works, so she went at it again. She was even more diligent and hardworking with her physical therapy. Couple that with her unwavering faith in God and she recovered from her second stroke like a champ! 

Riley-Wright is now very coherent, walking and talking again. But due to getting struck by an SUV in August 2019, she does need assistance with rides to get errands done. In March, Janet received some fantastic news. This phenomenal woman won the 2020 Piedmont Triad Remarkable Woman award! These are women who make a difference in our nation and our local communities. She’s also one of four finalists for Nexstar Media National Woman of The Year. The company has a nationwide initiative that honors the influence that women have had on public policy, social progress, and the quality of life. Her other accolades are: chair for The African American Initiative of United Way of Greater High Point, an advocate for domestic violence, substance abuse, and mental health. 

Again, I’m truly honored to introduce you to my Person of the Week, Janet Riley-Wright. I asked Janet what keeps her faith so strong. She replied, “Everybody has the faith that I have. It’s a matter of reaching out and connecting with your faith, and then hold on to it.”

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