De La Paz taking time to recuperate in her home town
- By Nikki Brahm
WAUKESHA — When HGTV star Carmen De La Paz decided to take a momentary break from television and travel home to Waukesha, she didn’t think it would last a year. That was before she had two brain aneurysms, one of which exploded, and she was transported by Flight for Life in August of 2019 to Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin for life-saving treatment.
It started when De La Paz had decided to take that break and was doing work like mixing cement and lifting wood to fix the foundation of her mother’s house. One morning she was taking a shower when she had the worst migraine of her life. After seven hours her mom convinced her she needed to go to a hospital in Waukesha.
“They put me through the CT scanner and they said, ‘She’s bleeding on both sides of the brain,’” she said. “‘We need to Flight for Life her to Froedtert.’” De La Paz said she didn’t remember any of this interaction as she had been knocked out; however, she woke up the next day in the Froedtert Intensive Care Unit to a nurse telling her she’d had a hemorrhagic stroke. De La Paz learned she had two aneurysms, one of which had exploded in the middle of her head behind her eyes.
De La Paz was told there was a 72-hour window during which she might not wake up. She was given the last rites by a priest.
She later suffered from three bacterial infections after the surgery and learned from her doctor that she beat the odds by 95% — those who have aneurysms often die immediately, are in a coma-state for life or have stroke-related deficits. She said it was God who saved her.
When she was able to finally go home, she said she was extremely worn out, with stroke fatigue in her head and body.
“The doctors said I probably had the aneurysm in my head for probably 10 years because of the size it was, which makes sense going back to the headaches I had,” she said.
De La Paz said she strongly encourages those who often have migraines to check and see if they have an aneurysm.
Since her experience, Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly asked De La Paz to join the Landmarks Commission, later resulting in another project so impressive that it could be on HGTV. She orchestrated the storage and removal of the Franklin Boggs poured-concrete mural in the outgoing City Hall, when the city had few options for the mural’s future. She and a group of volunteers removed the mural about a week ago.
“I’m still here for a reason and I’ve surpassed statistics by a long shot,” she said. “I’m back to doing everything that I love and everything that I do, and so therefore, there is a purpose for that. I’m trying to get back to figuring that out. So I was like ‘Yeah, I’ll take the Landmarks Commission position.’” De La Paz said she’s extremely proud to be from Waukesha — she describes herself as the “short Puerto Rican girl from Wisconsin” that made it.
“I really honestly feel that the combination of my parents, my culture and having been raised in Waukesha, Wisconsin, those things are the trilogy of who and what I have become,” she said. “And without one of those factors I don’t think I’d have gotten to where I’ve been.”
De La Paz has been making herself at home once again in the community. She’s taken up the building across the street from La Casa De Esperanza (also a nonprofit she’s been involved in) as her workshop. She is storing the City Hall mural in the shop as well.
She’s been taking time to recover her way.
“I think the COVID thing made me appreciate my pause,” she said. “Had the COVID thing not happened, I would have been wanting to get back to my world faster, the COVID thing has allowed me to appreciate the reset and allowed me to accept (that it’s going to be OK).”
Da La Paz said she’s excited to get back on television once COVID-19 isn’t a factor anymore — she’s been receiving calls from stations since her stroke.
She got into carpentry when she moved to New York and had to renovate an apartment on a budget. De La Paz has been featured on eight networks and 52 TV shows, including “Hammer Heads,” features on “American Handyman,” “HGTV Design Star” and the Oprah Network. She is well-recognized in South America, as she also speaks Spanish on television.
She is hoping to release a podcast called “Life DIY” (Do It Yourself) in the next couple of months – about interior design, creativity, life, cooking and more — from Waukesha.
“When I was in the hospital I kept thinking ‘Oh my God, I’m going to die and I don’t have kids and I didn’t leave this information with anybody. I have all this information in my head and it’s going to go with me,’” she said.
On Wednesday, during her interview with The Freeman, De La Paz had been working on Christmas projects — wood-working gifts for friends and family.
“I’m just grateful that I’m still here and I plan to continue to make a difference in the world,” she said.