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Rachel H.

Rachel & son enjoying the beach
Rachel & son enjoying the beach


Stroke of Luck!

For my 30th birthday, I had a statistical 1:1,000,000 stroke! I had it in my doctor's office or I'd be dead. Lucky! It changed my life in so many ways. It has been a long 8 years that I am lucky to have and I now know what a gift each day is.

On April 4, 2003, I went to my doctor's office for a check of my thyroid and I had a stroke right there in her office. I felt hot and then slumped to one side. I had no idea what was going on. I had had severe headaches for weeks. But due to my age, no one was thinking it was a stroke warning sign or even a TIA. Immediately, I could not swallow. I remember the ambulance driver helping suction so I could breathe! At the ER, it was cuckoo. Doctors told me it was a stroke! I had a CVA (dissection of my vetebral artery), a brain stem stroke. The biggest issue was the swallow. There were only two people in central Massachusetts that performed a technique called DPNS (basically hundreds of ice cold Q'tips stuck in your throat til you gag—that is the hope and success). So after 13 days in the hospital, I was sent to a nursing home to start the DPNS. What a horror, being 30 and in a home! I could walk and talk—but was I scared! I didn't fit in my new life or my skin. I didn't recognize myself! I was numb. After a week there, I signed myself out AMA and went home alone (not my brightest hour)! I began the speech, swallow, PT and OT. Each therapy was my job and mission. I was scared every night that the suction machine would fail and I would die. I was scared every minute that I might have another stroke. I kept checking my pupils in the mirror to see that they had the same dilation (at the time of the stroke, they did not).

Fear reigned! I was a teacher and now was the student. I did not trust my body. The doctors said that my type of stroke was not to reoccur, but I did not believe it. Now I do. They said that I was lucky, but I didn't think so. My spirit was crushed. The physical change was the loss of the ability to swallow. ( I got that back 9 weeks later, and I have the scar from the PEG tube to prove it.) I also lost sensation of pain and cold on the right side of my body. It is great air conditioning in the summer! I had spasmodic muscles on the left side of my face (like the claw hand you see). It makes my nose run and slurs my speech, Charming! The emotional and physical destruction led me to great isolation. The constant fight with my insurance company for services guaranteed by law or covered by my plan was draining. And yet now I see how fortunate I am to be able to have the health to fight! So many stroke survivors are not able to fight for their necessary services. Why should we have to fight? I was told that whereever I was 6 months out from my stroke was my recovery limit! Ha! For a couple of years I was destroyed and sick. Then some grace came and I saw a little light and hope! I began working with the new me, with the services to help me, and I came to believe that there was life after stroke.

Each day I saw improvement. Botox helps the face spasms. Speech therapy helps the rate of my speech. An active life retrains my body and muscles. Reiki gives me sensation back. And... after years of my doctor saying that I would never be healthy enough to have a baby, surprise, surprise! My family was blessed with Jason, who is now a totally healthy two year old. I am married. I teach again and I am good at it. In April I got to go to Beacon Hill and help lobby for funding for stroke prevention programs. They wanted me! They listened to me! And I was able to go! I love my life. Thanks for a chance to love it! I am a very lucky woman!


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Display of the Faces of Stroke stories does not imply National Stroke Association's endorsement of any product, treatment, service or entity. National Stroke Association strongly recommends that people ask a healthcare professional about diagnosis and treatment questions before using any product, treatment or service. The views expressed through the stories reflect those of the authors and do not reflect the opinion of National Stroke Association.

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