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Shannon H

October 19, 2017

I am ... A Survivor

Unlike many people, I cannot equate my story to one moment in time, but rather my story began in October 2013.  Simply getting out of bed one morning, I felt a pop in my neck and a shooting pain instantaneously surge to the top of my head.  A very strange sensation came over me and I recall cautiously standing up and asking myself out loud, “Am I having a stroke?”  I knew something wasn’t right, but my speech was fine and I didn’t appear to have any of the other classic stroke symptoms, such as facial drooping or weakness on one side of my body, so I assumed it was just a migraine.  I had suffered from migraines the majority of my adult life, but this continuous, excruciating headache that I was now experiencing was by far the worst. 

I experienced some blurred vision and the unrelenting headache was still present, regardless of what over-the-counter headache medications I took.  This led me to seek care at an urgent care, an ER, and a Neurologist’s office over the next several weeks.  Throughout this time period, my left arm became noticeably weaker until I ultimately lost use of it and my blood pressure was continuously high.  Initially I was diagnosed with a migraine then a pulled muscle.  However, 22 days after the initial pop in my neck, the results from a CT scan revealed that I had been suffering from multiple strokes.  On November 6, 2013, at the age of 32, I was admitted to the hospital. 

Working in the medical field for years, I knew the classic signs of stroke, or thought I did, and couldn’t fathom this to be true.  The thought had crossed my mind years prior that my migraine history might lead to a stroke one day, but I never thought it would actually happen to me, especially at a young age.  Truthfully, I don’t think the physicians did either, which is why I didn’t have a CT scan sooner.  Yet, there I was, in the hospital with a ton of test results revealing that I had earned the title of multiple stroke survivor!  I was diagnosed with a dissected carotid (the pop I felt in my neck), cerebrovascular accident, and an intracranial artery stenosis.  Basically, I had torn a small hole in my carotid artery in my neck, which caused clots that led to the discovery that part of the carotid in my brain narrows to almost a complete closure, most likely a congenital defect.  All of which resulted in several ischemic strokes.

Knowing that I still have the stenosis can be terrifying.  Will I have another stroke? Will I tear my carotid again?  I had a choice to make…live in fear or remember that I already faced death and came out a winner?  It’s all about having a positive perspective to get through each day, so I modified my lifestyle to become all-around healthier.  Months of therapy and a lifelong medication regimen, some residual effects will always remain; however, I am motivated to know that I am now amongst a uniquely strong group known as survivors of cardiovascular disease and I am now truly living my life!  Somehow I survived my 22 day brush with death and I truly believe I did so that I can now speak for all those that can’t! Raising awareness within the community of the risks and the importance of prevention, as well as advocating for proper care for those that seek medical attention, has now become a passion of mine! 

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