The Best and Worst Vacation of My Life
I was a healthy 49 year old woman and then had an unexpected stroke from a blood clot after a 10 hour plane ride home from Hawaii. After several tests, I also had heart surgery to close the small hole in my heart (PFO) that was also discovered.
I had the BEST week of my life in January 2014 but I also had the WORSE one the following week. How could that be in such a short period of time?
I had taken a family vacation to Oahu, Hawaii in January for a week. My husband and I were celebrating our 25th anniversary and we decided to bring our two college boys with since I found a good deal on airfare and we wanted some quality family time. We snorkeled, parasailed, skydived, hiked, visited Pearl Harbor and relaxed on the beach by the ocean. The weather was warm and sunny and it was nice to escape the Minnesota winter if only for a week. It was paradise and the vacation of a lifetime.
The only drawback was the long flight to Hawaii which was about ten hours each way. There wasn't any room to stretch your legs since everyone was packed in their seats like sardines. I remember thinking that I wish I could get up and walk around since my feet and legs wanted to move around but there really wasn't any room for that.
We returned to Minnesota a week later and went back to work and our normal routine. That's when an unexpected, horrible event happened to me ...
I was getting ready for work and just finished my shower when I stood in front of the mirror and couldn't remember what order to put on my make-up and I was very confused. I looked back and forth from one vanity drawer to the other not realizing that most of my makeup is in my purse. After several minutes, I figured it out and went into my room to get dressed. Then, what I did next really shocked me. I put on my sweater and then put my bra on over my sweater! I realized in a few seconds that something didn't look right so took it off before going anywhere. I was grateful that I noticed it was backwards before I left for work. Then, I made my bed but remember having tunnel vision and could really only see the bed and had no peripheral vision.
I attributed my confusion all morning to being tired and forgetful so headed out the door to my car for work. Little did I know that these were all warning signs that something was drastically going wrong.
I got about a mile from home and started singing to the radio and that's when I knew something was terribly wrong! The words were not coming out right and didn't even sound like words! I knew what I wanted to say but I couldn't understand any of them when they came out. I quickly pulled over to the side of the road and called my husband who had just got to work. I was able to tell him that I couldn't speak right and he called 911 for me. The paramedics checked me out by doing an EKG and simple arm movements and everything seemed fine but they recommended we go to the ER at the hospital in town to get looked at more closely so we left immediately.
The doctors rushed me into the ER since my speech seemed to get worse. I couldn't repeat any phrases the doctor wanted me to say which was very scary to me. I started to cry since I knew something was drastically wrong. The doctors did a CT scan and everything came out fine so they weren't sure why I was having problems.
I asked if it could be a stroke since my speech was so bad but the doctor said I had none of the 10 risk factors associated with stroke so there was a very slim chance that's what it was according to them. While I was in the ER, I had a migraine with auro, which are blind spots in my vision that I get every few months but with no headache. I had two of these migraines in the ER room so my doctor thought that it was probably a migraine that I had earlier since sometimes there are speech impairments with migraines so I felt somewhat better. I was sent home from the ER two hours later since my speech came back to normal.
The doctor recommended I see a neurologist in a few days which I did. My neurologist was very thorough and did an MRI which found that I actually had 3 areas of my brain that showed I had a stroke! How could that be? I was shocked and broke down crying since I was under the impression that I just had a migraine. The ER doctor told me I had no risk factors for stroke and yet I had one at the age of 49!
The neurologist recommended that I see a cardiologist and get an echocardiogram which is a scope that goes down the throat to look at the heart. What they found next also shocked me!
They found a small hole in my heart called a PFO (Patent Foramen Ovale) or Atrial Septal Defect. It is a heart defect present at birth. We are all born with a hole in our heart but for most people it closes shortly after birth. It is very common defect since 1 out of 5 people have it but don't know it unless a stroke occurs, especially for people like me who have no other obvious risk factors.
I asked how this PFO related to my stroke and the doctors believe that I probably had a blood clot in my leg after my long 10 hour trip from Hawaii that slowly traveled up to my heart and the clot went through this hole and up to my brain causing a stroke.
They also did some blood tests and found that I have a prothrombin mutation gene that was positive and makes me more likely to have a stroke in the future so they put me on Plavix which is a blood thinner to hopefully prevent future strokes.
The cardiologist recommended that I have surgery to get the PFO closed up. Before 2003, they would have to do open heart surgery but now there is a non-invasive surgery that only takes an hour and the recovery time is very quick.
I had this surgery on March 4th and the procedure only took 20 minutes. They put a catheter in my vein in my groin and follow it up to the hole and put an implant device in place to close the hole. There was an hour recovery time since I was put under general anesthesia and an overnight hospital stay to make sure there were no complications since there are risks to every surgery.
The surgery went great and I felt good after a few days. The only issue that bothered me was a scratchy throat for a few days since there were two tubes down my throat during the surgery to help me breathe and also a scope to see the heart. I have a few lifting and activity restrictions for a few weeks but other than that, it went very well.
I always considered myself very healthy and only saw my doctor once a year for a checkup. During this event, I had seen a neurologist, cardiologist, hematologist, surgeon, and several doctors and had a ton of blood tests and procedures done.
I will be on Plavix for the rest of my life mainly because I'm allergic to aspirin which many people take on a daily basis to prevent strokes since they help with blood clots.
I have been told that I was very lucky that this awful event happened the way it did since I had no permanent damage from the stroke and it was a warning sign that something wasn't right in my body.
Looking back, I wonder if having this stroke was worth the long plane trip to Hawaii but I have to say that it was since it was the best vacation ever for our family and for me personally, since I found out something about my health that needed to be fixed before it was too late. It makes you really appreciate the important things in your life like family and friends since they were all there to support me throughout this difficult time.
Thanks for your time and consideration.