27-year-old Stroke Survivor Shares her Amazing Story in her Own Words
Never ask me why, but I remember looking at the clock on my computer when a rush of warmth covered my body and a feeling of confusion and disorientation flooded my mind. It was 10am on August 26, 2013, and I had no idea what was wrong. Chris, my friend and colleague, pulled a chair up next to me to ask me a question and when I opened my mouth to answer nothing I was saying made any sense. Now, I'm known to mumble, but it's usually not that bad. I exhaled deeply and tried again, but my mouth just wasn't working. Chris looks at me, then immediately stands up and walks away. "Come back, I can help you with your question!" I notice I cannot move my left arm, but I want to at least reach a good stopping point so I get back to work.
I remember all the concerned looks on people's faces. I know something is wrong, but I don't know what. My boss and another colleague come and sit next to me and won't leave, so I resolve I'm done for the day and shut down my computer and sit there and stare at them since I can't seem to say or do much. The paramedics show up and get me on a stretcher and I am at St. Thomas Midtown in Nashville by about 10:30am. I still to this day wish someone had taken a picture so I could see what all the fuss was about, haha!
From that point on the day is a blur. I remember snippets, such as constantly asking for my boyfriend, Luis. He would know what to do. I try to text him a message and Dr. Malik Ibrahim, neurosurgeon, kindly takes the phone from me and lays me back down. Apparently he was calling my Dad, who affectionately called Dr. Ibrahim by my childhood nickname when his daughter's name came across his caller ID. Imagine his surprise when a strange man started talking to him! But, the last thing I really remember before waking up and finally being able to articulate my confusion and fear was being on the operating table and feeling a burning sensation course through my veins as the anesthesia is administered. I scream out (at least I think I do) and promptly pass out. I am woken by the neurosurgeon, Dr. Robbie Franklin, still on the operating table, quite talkative and curious. This is when I find out I had an ischemic stroke.
No one can believe how responsive I am after the stroke. I can talk, I can move my left side with no problems, and am ready to leave the hospital ASAP. Why? Well, within an hour of arriving at the hospital the stroke program coordinator, Margaret DuFour, BSN, RN, CNRN, makes the life-saving decision to administer Tissue Plasminogen Activator, tPA. As the only FDA-approved stroke treatment drug, the tPA quickly acts to dissolve the clot that is located right behind my right ear. According to the doctors, this takes the level of severity of my stroke from a 9 out 10 to a 6 out of 10; a drastic improvement that buys me some time for the doctors to determine the next course of action. Without Margaret DuFour and the tPA I would not be as well off as I am today. Then, around 4pm, Dr. Robbie Franklin comes in and finishes the job by performing an endovascular procedure and snaking a catheter from a blood vessel in my groin up to the right side of my brain and sucking the blood clot right out. Viola!
The question that everyone had was "how did it happen"? I had low blood pressure, I was eating healthy and just got in to kickboxing 3 weeks prior. I was about 5 pounds overweight and I was in the process of quitting smoking, but all in all they said I was one of the healthiest stroke victims they had seen. So, what happened? Well, as it turns out, I had a hole in my heart. Oh boy was that a surprise! A blood clot formed in my legs, most likely from the birth control I was on, and pushed through a tiny flap-like hole in my heart called a Patent Foramen Ovale, PFO. A saline bubble test revealed this. On October 23, 2013, Dr. Mark Stankewicz, a cardiologist at St. Thomas West in Nashville, uses his endless expertise and inserts a PFO closure and I am out of the hospital the next day. Modern technology still amazes me constantly.
The question I had was "what now"? In less than two weeks my brother, Danny, would be getting married and I was not going to miss that! Danny was planning on postponing his wedding for me, but, of course, my twin brother can't place his life on hold for me, so I made it clear I was going. Although, I do wish I had changed my shoes because that's when I first discovered the muscles in the back of my left foot atrophied and keeping pumps from slipping off was quite a challenge. But, I am beyond lucky I was able to walk at all! Two weeks after my stroke, I was back at the gym kickboxing, albeit against doctor's wishes, but my stubbornness knows no bounds. It was about two weeks after I got back in to the gym that reality set in...I had a stroke and things weren't as easy. I didn't realize there was a delayed onset of side-effects. No matter what, it could have been so much worse, but some movements, primarily manifested in the gym and the dexterity of my fingers, aren't as easy and I am now walking on the outside of my left foot. Unfortunately, my chances of becoming a stenographer and/or famous choreographer have diminished.
So, yes, I have some residual side-effects from the stroke. Some are easier to manage than others and some make life a bit more difficult, but you know what? It doesn't even matter. I will never stop trying and doing. If it wasn't for Margaret DuFour's quick thinking and Dr. Franklin's nimble neurosurgeon fingers I don't know where I would be.
I will never let a traumatic experience keep me down. I have always been someone who looks for the bright side of a situation and nothing can change that about me. I've since changed my diet, completely quit smoking and up-ed my workouts, complete with regular kickboxing classes and weight training. I've lost 30 pounds and 4 dress sizes. While I came in fairly healthy, when my body failed me, for whatever reason, how could I not use it as a final push to change the things in my life I've been wanting to change, but hadn't gotten around to?
I've since googled this phenomenon...Post Traumatic Growth. I have an amazing second chance at life. And while I might not be able to go out and see the world and do all the things on my bucket list right away, I have a long life ahead of me to achieve my goals and I will be sure not to waste it by having a negative attitude. So cheers to the life I have ahead of me and an endless thank you to the people in my life that saved me and helped me through everything. Margaret, Dr. Franklin, Dr. Stankewicz, my boyfriend, family, and friends...thank you, thank you, thank you.