More than two years after suffering a stroke (discussed publicly here for the first time with WebMD), and almost 10 years after being diagnosed with diabetes, Tonye Patano, 45, still struggles with controlling her weight. It's a goal made none the easier considering the actor just crisscrossed the country, co-starring in the revival of the play Legends alongside Dynasty divas Joan Collins and Linda Evans.
"My body is not in its optimum place," Patano concedes. "My goal is to reset my plan and challenge myself to stay healthy, whether I'm on the road or not." Los Angeles is where the New York resident films Weeds, the Showtime series in which her character, Heylia, supplies marijuana to Mary-Louise Parker's suddenly widowed housewife-turned-dealer. (The third season premieres in August.)
Part of the character's formidable presence is due to her size, putting Patano in a difficult position. If she loses weight, her diabetes symptoms are likely to improve drastically. But Patano worries that a lighter Heylia could have a less powerful screen presence. "I can't separate my acting life and real life," she says. "Real life is more important!" Luckily, producers support the character, heavy or thin.
Patano's stroke happened just after filming wrapped on season one in 2005. "I said to my friends, 'I feel like something is starting to happen.'" Just as she uttered those words, she slumped to her right side.
Because she had witnessed strokes in other people, Patano asked doctors to explore stroke as a possibility, even though her relatively young age and the fact that she could communicate clearly made a stroke unlikely. Still, roughly 700,000 Americans have strokes each year, and it is the third most common cause of death, claiming about 163,000 lives yearly in the United States. Clots cause the majority of strokes, and the remainder are due to hemorrhages.
After a year on blood thinners, Patano is off prescription stroke medication. She continues to eat as many fruits and vegetables as possible, avoid sugar, and hike and dance for exercise. "My new challenge is to be beyond fabulous by 50," says Patano. "I've got five years to shine into my own."