April 7, 2016, was the scariest day of my life.
The day before started out as a normal Thursday, except for a headache that would not go away. I’ve suffered migraines since I was in the sixth grade, so nothing seemed terribly unusual about this particular episode. I left work and went to straight to bed at 5:30 p.m. after taking some over-the-counter pain medicine.
I woke up on April 7 feeling better, but as I was brushing my teeth before work, I noticed some numbness in my lips and face. I thought I had just slept weird and continued with my daily routine. Aside from the dull headache throughout the morning, I felt fine.
In the afternoon, I drove home for lunch and to let my dogs out. As I bent down to pet the dogs, I suddenly, and without any warning, realized that I could not feel my arms. Panic set in when I clapped my hands to get the dogs’ attention and everything sounded muffled. I tried to calm myself down, thinking it was just an anxiety attack.
I was walking out the front door, heading back to my car when I smelled something foul – I looked down and saw vomit on my shirt. At some point, and without realizing, I had thrown up on myself.
I went upstairs to get changed and wash up, and when I looked in the mirror, the left side of my face had drooped. Halfway down the stairs, my legs felt like 100-pound weights. I held on to the railing and knew that I needed to call for help; something was definitely wrong.
But at 30 years old, a stroke never even crossed my mind.
I managed to get my mother on the phone, but she had no clue what I was trying to say to her. Today she describes it as a sound she’d never heard before, like a high-pitched squeal. In my mind, I was speaking normally. She told me to call for an ambulance.
I dialed 911, and I’m so grateful the dispatcher could make out whatever words I was speaking. Luckily, my neighbor is an EMT and was at home that day when he heard my name come over the scanner. He was the first person I saw walk into my house, and a few minutes later, the ambulance was outside.
I was taken to Abington Hospital-Jefferson Health, where they determined I was experiencing a massive ischemic stroke, and I was quickly given the life-saving tPA shot. I spent the next six days in the ICU getting tested for everything under the sun.
Doctors discovered that I was born with a blood-clotting disorder, an MTHFR gene mutation. This, combined with the birth control pills I’d been taking since I was a teen, created the “perfect storm.”
But my biggest battle was yet to come: I’d need to undergo months of therapy to learn how to function normally again. Everything I had known was now foreign to me in the blink of an eye.
Today, 14 months later, I am truly blessed to be here with a successful recovery. I still have no feeling on the left side of my body, distorted taste buds, balance and memory issues, but I will take these residual side effects over what could have been.
It hasn’t been easy adjusting to this new “normal” way of life, but I still have my independence and have worked diligently to become a healthier, better version of myself.
The face of stroke is not just of an elderly person as I once had perceived. Stroke can happen to anyone at any age, including babies in utero. I was given a second chance; I survived. Now I’m sharing my story so that other lives can be saved. I am also volunteering with the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association to warn of common everyday signs that should not be ignored:
- Face Drooping,
- Arm weakness,
- Speech difficulty,
- Time to call 911!
A note from the American Heart Association / American Stroke Association:
While Christie’s story is unique, it is unfortunately not as uncommon as one might suspect. Stroke is the No. 5 cause of death in the United States, responsible for one in every 20 deaths. An estimated 7.2 million Americans 20 and older have had a stroke. However, 80 percent of strokes are preventable and are largely treatable. AHA/ASA is currently working to support a bill that will ensure the more than 90 stroke centers in Pennsylvania receive additional certifications to become acute stroke-ready hospitals and comprehensive stroke centers, with the hope that more stroke victims, like Christie, will receive the care they need and make a successful recovery.