Southington Man Raises Awareness About Strokes After Death of His Wife

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Imagine getting ready to celebrate a major milestone with a significant other, family member or friend, and then in an instant, something happens and your life changes forever.

Southington resident Sal Vernali knows that feeling all too well. 

“I always had that bit of hope, always. And the fact that the hope was fading was just … crushing, crushing"

Vernali said, taking us back 10 years to tell us about his late wife, Jennifer, who died at 36 years old.

Sal Vernali describes Jennifer as a "very smart, funny, witty, friendly person.

“Everyone loved her. She was a family woman, just a very loving, caring person" he said.

The date was July 14 and they were celebrating their wedding anniversary, on their way to a Yankees game, when a feeling of illness, would change their life forever.

"Within 36 hours we go from waking up, anniversary, celebrating, happy, to being on a respirator and to passing because of this very, very rare stroke that she had," Vernali said.

According to the World Health Organization, a stroke is the second leading cause of deaths worldwide. 

"Every 40 seconds a person in the United States has a stroke and approximately every 3.5 minutes, every fourth minute, a person dies because of a stroke," Dr. Ajay M.  Tunguturi, vascular medical director for Hartford Healthcare, said. 

While the risk increases with age, health experts said these are the signs and symptoms anyone should look out for. The acronym is FAST.

F - face, if one side is drooping or sagging 

A - arm, if there is any weakness 

S - speech. Look for any jumbled or slurred words 

T - time, because time is of the essence to call an ambulance.

Sal said he knew that he wanted to turn his family’s pain into a new purpose.

“I want to keep their mom's memory alive. Because her soul is passed, but our memory is gonna live forever," Vernali said.

He’s done just that with a charity called Jogging for Jennifer. 

"Jennifer and I, we ran races at Disney together a lot. And I still like to run these races on her behalf. And in doing so I like to raise money for the American Heart Association, and also to Mary's Place, which is the widows’ group that I belong to," Vernali said.

Sal says he gives tips online to raise awareness as well help others to know that they aren’t alone.

But what he ultimately wants people to know is this: "To love life, live life. And that basically sums it up. Because love the life that you have, live the life that you have, because that's, that's what your loved ones want," Vernali said.

On this “Angel-versary,” which is what he calls the passing of his late wife, Sal said that he’s just thankful.

He’s been happily married for several years, he’s watched his kids grow up and yet even a decade later, he said he still feels Jennifer's presence and that she’s smiling down on him and the family.

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