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How old were you when you had your stroke? 29

  • Date of your stroke? 3/22/2016
  • What general area do you live in? Berrien Springs , MI
  • Type of Stroke? Cerebellar infarction, due to a dissection of the vertebral artery, which caused an ischemic stroke.
  • Any known reasons for your stroke? The day before, I tried to do a one-armed handstand balancing on a kettle bell. I fell and hit my face against the kettle bell, hyper-extending my neck and dissecting the vertebral artery (inner layers of artery stuck together, inhibiting blood flow).
  • What were your symptoms? I had no symptoms for about 24 hours. The next morning after working out, my neck began to hurt really bad. About 4 hours later, I got extreme vertigo, quickly followed by nausea and vomiting. Within an hour of the onset of those symptoms, I lost control and feeling on my entire left side, that’s when we knew it wasn’t food poisoning or the flu, but something more serious. At that point, I couldn’t stand or walk, so my husband and a coworker carried me to the car, and we drove to the ER.
  • Were you administered TPA (Tissue Plasminogen Activator) within the first 3-5 hours of your stroke? Yes
  • Where did you go for in-patient rehab?
    After leaving the ER at Lakeland Hospital in St Joseph, MI, they transferred me to their ICU (because of the TPA), and I was there for about 24 hours. During that time, I saw a speech therapist (but my speech was unaffected, so that didn’t help much), an occupational therapist, and a physical therapist, all of which worked there in the hospital. Then I spent a night in a “regular” hospital room to recover. The next morning I saw the physical and occupational therapists again. I was discharged that day (two days after my stroke).
  • Where did/do you go for outpatient rehab?
    I live and work on at Andrews University, and we have an excellent Physical Therapy program. I was able to do rehab for free with a neurological PT that teaches in the program, since I was willing to let students work with me for a class they were taking. I did that for about 3 months, and it definitely made a huge difference. I also have a close friend who is a PT, who would come over and work with me and give me different exercises to practice on my own.

W hat are your biggest challenges/residual effects? My vision, balance and coordination were the biggest areas affected. Getting around was the first big challenge. About a week or so after getting home, the headaches got really bad. I was able to get stronger pain killers and after about a month, the headaches went away completely, which was awesome! For a long time, my vision was a problem. Things wouldn’t stay very steady (visually) when I would move around, but that eventually stopped. I still see double in a certain area on of my left eye, but my vision in general is still improving. Sometimes I feel visually “overwhelmed” when I’m moving around or in a crowd of people. I also got occasional vertigo from things like sit ups, lying flat on the floor or tipping my head backwards, but that has basically gone away now. Now the most consistent reminders of my stroke are the tingling in my left fingers, dryness in my left eye, and that my left eye doesn’t open as wide as the other one. But these are such minor things and I feel so blessed because of that!

A ny therapy tips you picked up during your time in therapy that might help others? All of the physical therapy I got was amazing, but I only did that a couple of days a week, so it was really what I did on my own time that made the biggest difference. Besides just practicing the things I learned in therapy, I reincorporated CrossFit, Zumba and yoga into my schedule as I was able. CrossFit helped me get my strength back, but also helped me get back some of the coordination I’d lost. Zumba was also excellent for coordination and agility, since there are a lot of movements you do when dancing that you wouldn’t do in your every day life. And yoga was great for my balance and flexibility, since I was often very stiff and tight from not moving as much. Now I’m back to CrossFitting 5 days a week and doing Zumba and yoga at least once or twice a week. Also, I noticed during my PT sessions that some movements or positions might be really difficult, or even induce vertigo, but if I did them again, they would become easier, more comfortable or the vertigo would stop. I started challenging myself little by little to test out those uncomfortable positions (like leaning backwards for example, or doing sit ups). Now they’re no problem!

How did you hear about NOPW?

I found you on Instagram! I’m so glad there’s a community of people that not only know what I’m going through, but are working to raise awareness. Follow me HERE.

What is something quirky/fun about yourself?

I help at my local church, I’m a CrossFit coach (CFL1), I love to cook and eat, and I have two rescue dogs.

I want to be even stronger and better than I was before the stroke, not just physically, but mentally, spiritually, and as a person in general. I want to show people that road blocks are temporary, and excuses are a huge waste of time. I just want to be awesome.

P ost recovery, what is something you have learned that might encourage others?The human body and the brain are so amazing! I don’t feel like my body let me down when I had a stroke, I feel like it’s showed me how incredibly God made me and reminded me to take the best care of my body that I can. I was very fit before the stroke, and that has REALLY helped with my recovery. Other stroke survivors that I’ve met are amazed at how far I’ve come. Even two months after my stroke, many people couldn’t tell I’d had one. I was passionate about fitness and health before, but now I tell people that fitness can literally save your life (not just lengthen it). And as long as you’re alive, it’s never too late to start a fitness journey! I also take every opportunity I can to teach people about strokes and make sure they know how to recognize the signs and symptoms. I knew NOTHING about strokes before I had one. Hopefully the information I share can help someone else. But most importantly, my whole experience was just a huge reminder of how good God is. He brought so much positivity and joy to my life out of it. I think that’s the biggest miracle of all.

What keeps you motivated now?

I want to be even stronger and better than I was before the stroke, not just physically, but mentally, spiritually, and as a person in general. I want to show people that road blocks are temporary, and excuses are a huge waste of time. I just want to be awesome.

What advice would you give someone recovering from a stroke now?

Listen. Listen to your body, listen to the doctors, and listen to the people closest to you, too. They may not all agree, so you’ll have to synthesize all the input you’re getting and just make the best choices you can. But don’t let anyone stop you from working hard. I’ve heard a lot of amazing stories about doctors saying a stroke patient would never do “something” again, and even though it might take months or years, they do it! Just work hard. You’ll have tough days, but remember they’re just that: days. They’ll pass and you’ll get a new one tomorrow.

T ell us about your tattoo on your wrist! 2016 was a big year for me: had a stroke, finished grad school, turned 30 and now I’m starting my dream job in a couple of weeks. I feel like I’m capable of just about anything right now, and I wanted a visual reminder of that for when I forget 🙂 I was so excited to find you guys after my stroke. I think what you’re doing is so important, and I LOVE explaining what the symbol means.

While this stroke has strengthened my spirit, it’s also softened my heart. God has really used this experience to make me a more sympathetic and thoughtful person, and this heart pop is also an homage to that.

What’s your favorite motivation song?

I heard the song “Alive” by Sia a couple weeks after my stroke, and that meant a lot to me for obvious reasons! Also, “This Too Shall Pass” by OK Go.

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