As an active, healthy and well adjusted 21-year old, I was looking forward to my first “grown up” trip. I was going to celebrate my 21st birthday with my mom and brother in Las Vegas. The trip was a long time in the planning – and we had a ton of things we were going to do and see.
After landing in Las Vegas we headed to the hotel. While I had a low-grade headache, I chalked that off to the excitement and perhaps a little lack of sleep. After all, I’d been working, going to school and doing homework. My days AND nights were always busy.
Once at the hotel, mom and I ate a quiet dinner and headed for bed. So much to see and do the next day! Mom and I took a few pictures of ourselves together at the hotel – relaxed, happy and healthy. Those were the last pictures I would have of myself in that condition.
The following morning, May 29, 2004, at 10:00 a.m. I awoke a little disoriented and with a splintering headache. After talking to my mom a bit, I got up to get dressed. I don’t remember anything much after that.
The story goes that I dropped to the ground, right in front of my mom. I do remember a panic stricken mother and brother, and my mother frantically calling for help. After that everything was pretty much a blank.
I was rushed to the nearest hospital – fortunately for me it was a certified Stroke Center – and the doctors on duty rushed to save my life. Mom was told that it wasn’t likely I would survive the night – I had suffered a massive ischemic stroke – but the doctors were going to try the TPA “Clot buster” I now know was instrumental in my recovery.
In and out of consciousness, days turned into weeks in intensive care. Brain swelling had caused a real scare – and the drugs used to combat the swelling were playing havoc with my system.
Eventually, the brain swelling was reduced and I was transferred to the Rehab Unit of the same Hospital. That was where the work began. I had no idea that my body wasn’t willing to move – no idea that I might not be able to swallow or talk or walk. I was angry, sad and depressed. But each step of the way I had my family, who by now were all by my side. I guess they’d been there since the day of my stroke, but I really didn’t notice I gained my strength watching my mom; dad, brother and sister reassure me that we’ll all get through this together.
I began the testing process to see whether I could swallow, eat, talk and move. I managed to swallow, was slow to eat, talked (although somewhat incoherently) and moved on one side only. It was as if one side of my body had now been disconnected from the rest. But within days, I was in a rehab unit – and I was being raised to my feet to begin the process of relearning how to walk. I was fitted with a leg brace to assist my left leg and to keep me from falling. I was working with speech therapists and with occupational therapists.
Then the day came – I was ready to go home! So I thought. I was transported by ambulance from Las Vegas to Barrows Neurological in Phoenix – a mere 10 minutes from my house. I was so homesick I cried when I knew we were in “my neighborhood” – because all I really wanted to do was go home with my mom and see my dogs.
Once at Barrows, the therapists and doctors continued the strict regiments of rehab – and little by little I adapted to the loss of most of my left side. We worked with numbers – tested my memory, read, solved puzzles…all as I found out later – in an attempt to re-engage my brain.
After many weeks at Barrows…I was READY to go home! What a relief…a little worse for the wear but home nonetheless. My mom took me home and my first request was to take a bath. Something I hadn’t done since that fateful day. But the bathtub ordeal was just the beginning. Mom got me in there. and we couldn’t get out! We realized that there wasn’t any manual for this type of thing. We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so mom and I laughed until she got in the water with me and carried me out. While we may have cried later, that was a turning point. We knew at that time that life wasn’t going to be easy and that the work had just begun. What followed was an intensive 9 month rehabilitation day program, every weekday – all day. Speech therapy, occupational therapy, neuropsychological, group meetings, specialists…and the list goes on and on. Some days I was so exhausted I would beg my mom not to make me go. More often than not that fell on deaf ears as mom pushed me in my wheelchair from the parking lot all the way through to the hospital’s day rehab program. Those are bittersweet days – exhausting both mentally and physically. But I graduated from their program and was ready for the next step.
After being released from the Intensive Outpatient Clinic, I began at SWAN REHAB under the care of Dr. Kay Wing. I immediately felt like I had an angel at my side. Kay was kind and firm. Just like I needed. Since my first visit to SWAN, my life has continued to improve.
Two summers ago I finished my Associate’s degree at Phoenix College and today I’m back in school at ASU working on my Bachelors. I’m driving, doing a little housework, reading, engaging… and I have high hopes for the future and a renewed sense of strength, hope and appreciation for life. My family and I are closer than ever, and my priorities are now to continue to improve each day and to live my life in tribute to my survival.
Recently, I was a guest on the Dr. Drew’s Life Changers Show and was surprised with a visit from Kay Wing and the Bioness Corporation on the set! Not only was my story told to help others, but I was presented with the world’s FIRST Wireless Bioness H-200 device. Working with this device, I have been able to make great improvements in my hand movements and over time, I am certain that a lot of hand function will return. I am so blessed and so grateful. I am regaining a small but manageable social life and have begun to enjoy this life that I’ve been given. I am finding joy in things that I’d forgotten about. And most of all – I’m finding myself and learning to cope.
Dr. Drew’s Life Changers Show