My name is Delanie Stephenson, and the past couple of years have been trying for my family. In August of 2011, my sister went in for what was supposed to be an outpatient surgery to have a mass removed from her neck. During the course of the operation, her carotid artery was severed, and, despite their tying it off, she wound up having a blood clot break loose, causing her to have a stroke at the age of 29. She's a loving wife, mother of two, and an English teacher. However, her life changed forever. Now, she walks with a cane and cannot use her left arm at all. After many weeks in both inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation, she came a long way. Over the course of a year, she's been able to overcome learning to walk again, swallowing difficulties, and the daily struggles of dealing with the emotional challenges that stroke survivors succumb to. I didn't understand who she was anymore or why she had changed so much. That was until June 6, 2012.
On June 6, 2012, I, at the age of 33, had a stroke. What are the odds of two sisters (there's two siblings) would be have a stroke? I went from normal life--married, two kids, and a teacher as well, history--to having my life literally flash before my eyes. As for all of those people on talk shows that say they've had out of body experiences, well I believe them now. I had one.
My outcome was very similar to my sister's: I couldn't talk, couldn't swallow correctly to eat (the muscles had gotten too weak), and couldn't walk. All I could do was move my right hand and leg a little bit. I then lost that ability as well as I went through a battle of sympathetic storms. They took my ability to do everything. I was "locked in": I could blink my eyes and move my thumbs to give a thumbs up in response, but that was all. I was trapped inside my own body.
I spent 2 two weeks at the Medical College of Virginia at Virginia Commonwealth University , most of it in ICU, and was told I would be going to inpatient rehabilitation. Due to the sympathetic storming, that would not be the case. Instead, I wound up at Retreat Hospital (a sub acute rehabilitation hospital) and remained there for six weeks. That was where I spent the majority of the summer of 2012. I laughed. I cried. I loved the people who worked there. They were more than my caregivers. They became my friends. It was there that I would speak my first words, stand again for the first time, and take my first steps. I would also take my first bite of food there: applesauce (I was like a toddler). I really credit the environment they made for me with a lot of my improvements.
After Retreat Hospital, I went back to MCV/VCU to inpatient rehab for three hours of intensive speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy everyday. While there I was able to walk with a walker, I spoke a little better, and I could eat normal food. I even went to Cracker Barrel. There I would stay for about three weeks.
I was finally able to leave a hospital setting and go to the comfort of my mother-in-law's. It wasn't home, but at least I could be with my husband and kids. I would spend the next month in the day rehab program at Sheltering Arms, outpatient rehabilitation, getting up at 4:45 a.m. to catch a van in the parking lot at Wal-Mart and wouldn't return until 4:00 in the afternoon--all of which made me very tired.
During this process, my kids had started school, kindergarten and first grade, and my husband was working. Normally, I would be a little overwhelmed with everything going on, but I was really anxious during this period. I was diagnosed later with pseudo bulbar effect, so this totally explained why my emotions went haywire.
After Sheltering Arms was over, I was finally able to go to my home. Things were not as I had imagined they would be. I still had therapy at HealthSouth twice a week for three hours; I couldn't drive and had to give up all my independence. Either my mother or mother-in-law had to stay with me and the kids since I couldn't handle them by myself. I felt like a prisoner in my own home.
Physically I had gone from a wheelchair, to a walker, to a 4- pronged cane, to a single-point cane, to nothing. My speech had drastically improved; people could even understand me on the phone. But my emotional fragility lasts to this day and still is a constant struggle. That has been the hardest part of this journey--getting back the control.