DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) — Every year, more than 795,000 people in the U.S. have a stroke, and a Dayton pageant winner is part of that statistic.

Jeri Ward nearly died from a stroke about three years ago. She was 30. Since then, she’s been raising awareness for stroke prevention and spreading her message.

“I don’t think people realize that I still have deficits that I still have to overcome,” says Ward.

In addition to Mrs. Ohio International 2021, add another title to Ward’s name — stroke survivor.

“I actually felt a pop in the back of my head and it fizzled out like the sound of a firework. At that point in time I knew something was severely wrong, and I went to tell my husband but I couldn’t move or speak at all,” Ward describes.

In October 2018, just three weeks after competing in Mrs. America, she suffered a massive stroke and lost her ability to move, read, write and speak.

“I was terrified,” admits Ward. “When you’re a competent, cognizant individual, and you’re trying to do basic functions and you just can’t — that moment is absolutely terrifying.”

For about a year, she underwent intense therapy.

“It was incredibly frustrating. I can’t deny that. I think a lot of people see me now and see my progress and are like, ‘How are you so positive?’ This wasn’t every day. I had days where I cried all day long. I had days where I was so angry because I lost everything that made me, me,” admits Ward.

With a lot of work and determination, she gained those abilities back, and is now using her voice as Mrs. Ohio International 2021 to tell her story.

“My platform is called ‘Stroke of Luck’ because I got really lucky with my recovery and with my ability to survive a stroke. But not everyone gets as lucky as I did,” states Ward.

Ward works with a number of national and international organizations like the American Heart Association and the International Stroke Foundation to teach others how to spot the signs.

“I have a ‘BE FAST’ challenge, which teaches all about stroke signs and symptoms,” says Ward.

Her journey of recovery is ongoing.

“I’m still learning how to read and write right now, and I’m also still learning how to spell,” says Ward. “I think accepting that progress and being excited about the little things in life was really what kept me pushing forward.”

She will go on to compete in Mrs. International in July. Ward is also currently testifying at the Statehouse to encourage the passage of stroke transportation laws.