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Sarah W

May 19, 2015

I am ... A Survivor

I was in great health. I was 28, a wildlife biologist and wildland firefighter, and was on a detail in Idaho fighting a wildland fire with my crew. I liked to push myself, so it wasn't an unusual day when I kept carrying increasingly heavy tools and equipment across my shoulders. That evening, my head was pounding and my neck was killing me. I started getting what I thought were migraine-related auras. I later found out that this was my first TIA.

Almost exactly one week later, following 7 days full of 'migraine auras' and extreme neck pain, I was at the grocery store on a Friday night with my friend. While in the checkout line, I suddenly got unbearably dizzy. I couldn't stand. I couldn't see. Speaking was difficult and operating my right side was a serious issue. My friend carried me outside, where I started vomiting in the parking lot. No one offered help - it was a Friday night and a relatively young girl looked like she went grocery shopping drunk. My friend tucked me in his truck and took me home, where he then had to carry me to my apartment. I refused to call 911 - I didn't know anything about strokes and besides, I was so young and healthy! Two impossible days passed before I went to the doctor. I was told it was a migraine and given pain medicine. This happened for a full week - me crawling to make it down stairs, dropping cups and watching them shatter because my grip and vision just wasn't quite right. Again, a full week later I finally had an MRI. I was called two hours later with news I would have never expected - I had a stroke on the right side of my cerebellum. I needed to go to the ER immediately. I spent a week there and was released to go home with 24 hour care. Physically I looked fine - mentally I was a mess. I continued to have TIAs and then siezures afterwards. But my family and friends helped me through.

Faces of Stroke Follow-Up: 

Today, two years later, I still look completely 'normal.' People are surprised to learn that I'm a stroke survivor and now have epilepsy. With three grand mal siezures under my belt since my stroke, and countless small siezures, my life has changed drastically. My firefighting career is over. My job with the US Forest Service as a wildlife biologist is gone. I'm living at home with my family, because my siezures still aren't under control, my sleep is awful, and my depression since my stroke has, at times, been almost unmanageable. But overall, I'm happy and positive. I walked away from that experience so much stronger. I'm intimately familiar with how quickly our lives can change, and have learned that I can't control everything. And I'm endlessly amazed by the support that I continue to recieve. This entire experience has shown me that I'm loved, that I'm strong, and that I'm a lucky woman who made it through seemingly impossible circumstances to be standing here today.


Stroke is really a life-changing experience.  I am glad you survived it and I hope you recover from the seizures.  I am a Stroke survivor too, but I am twice your age.  A year ago, I had a Stroke and I was also lucky to survive it.  I had similar warnings a day before when I got pounding headache on the right side, which I thought I had migraines.  I had a high pressure episode, where my blood pressure was 180/100 and because I was living alone at that time, I went to the hospital but my blood pressure went down because I took an early dose of BP medication but I still had the severe headache.  In the hospital, they gave me Toradol injection, which I later learned that it should not be given to those with high blood pressure because it can lead to Stroke or Heart Attack.  I was discharged after my blood pressure went back to normal but I felt disoriented and I had a hard time getting back to my apartment (using Spatial Memory).  The next day, I woke up with a lesser headache but with a visual aura, which I thought of being a migraine.  I also had neck pain, so I thought I needed those special pillows, so as I was driving to the store, I found that changing lanes was mentally difficult to do. At night, after I took something for the migraines, I noticed that I had problems with my peripheral vision and again I thought that was migraines. The following day, the headache was gone but the peripheral vision problem continued, so I went to ER where after MRI they told me I had a “Mild” Stroke.

After a battery of tests they still call the cause, Cryptogenic as they don’t know the exact cause.  I look “Normal” and people do not believe it when I say there are effects.  My loss was mostly visual as I lost peripheral vision on the upper left side.  I am also having problems finding my way in new places, such as new buildings at work or on the road, should make a right turn, or left turn?  I rely on GPS all the time even for the familiar routes.  Visually finding my way can be difficult so I rely on memory, such as exit numbers; I am good with numbers.  I recently identified a landmark that identifies the road I need to go to in order to get to my new house. I feel depressed during the day, and people around me don’t understand why but they keep telling me to be strong.  There are some concentration problems and learning new tasks can be challenging.

I wish you best of luck,


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