Sue's story nine years later
Nine years ago, on the morning of February 23rd, 2003 I remember it took a long time to wake up, I felt like I was drugged. When I finally woke up I couldn't move my right arm and I could not understand why. I managed to get up and stumbled to the other side of the bed where I sat down on Kevin's side. Kevin was still sleeping so I kept pushing him with my left hand. Once he woke up I kept telling him something was wrong with my right arm, and that it wouldn't work. Of course what actually came out of my mouth was only slurred speech and noise. My mouth and face on the right side was drooping and I was drooling. Poor Kevin, this really scared him to death. We had lost my 48 year old sister 3 years before from a brain aneurysm. Kevin thought that the nightmare of that was repeating itself.
I don't remember much about the first 24 hours. I know they took me by ambulance to our local hospital. By the time they got me there I was totally paralyzed on my right side. The hospital performed a CAT scan to make sure that my brain was not bleeding from an aneurysm. They think that I have had a stroke. They then decided to transport me to Baystate Medical Center. My sister-in-law was trying to remove my jewelry before they took me to Baystate. She tried to remove my rings on my right hand. Knowing that I was totally paralyzed she tells me that I looked at her and I very frankly told her "she can't find her hand; she doesn't know what she did with it".
After spending a very confusing and restless night, I began to regain my ability to use my right arm, my right leg and some of my speech. After meeting all of the various support professionals such as, O.T., P.T, Speech, etc., and my Doctors they have now confirmed that I had a massive cerebral vascular accident. It was now their mission to find out why. I was only 43 years old. This is pretty young for a stroke.
I rapidly continued to improve and after many tests my doctors found a birth defect in my heart, that I was not aware of, called a "patent foramen ovalle" with an added condition called "atrial septal aneurysm" which in simple terms means, a hole in the wall of the heart that separates the two atriums (upper chambers) with a weakness in that wall which allows it to move back and forth. These problems allowed a blood clot to form and pass from the right side to the left side of my heart and then it went directly to my brain which caused the stroke. My stroke was a left sided brain injury affecting my right side. The resulting symptoms are expressive aphasia, the tendency to perseverate (repeating the same mistakes even though you know they are wrong), speech difficulties, loss of vocabulary, confusion, lack of concentration, difficulty reading, dyslexia, right side weakness, loss of sensation, etc. I had a very hard time accepting what had happened to me. I am usually a very together person. I am the Business manager for a multi million dollar construction business, and I also was a waitress two nights week at a lovely local inn. I was a very organized and very busy person. This couldn't be happening to me.
My Doctors then recommended that I go to Mass General Hospital and be evaluated by Dr. Palacios who is a cardiologist and the director of the catheterization lab to decide if I was a candidate for surgery to fix these heart defects. Fortunately in the last few years they have approved a new procedure to fix this type of defect without having to resort to open heart surgery.
June 25th, 2003 at Mass General Hospital I was taken to an operating room and had 2 incisions made at my groin area. The surgeon opened a femoral artery and a large femoral vein. A catheter was sent up through each opening and my heart was checked for any blockages and the P.F.O. was confirmed. Through the vein side catheter was sent a device which was placed through the hole in my heart, the device then expanded which sealed the hole. Once the surgeon was happy with the placement of the device the catheters were removed and I was sent to the recovery room. It was determined at that time that the hole was not completely sealed; the doctor said it may take up to 6 months for a complete closure. In June of 2004 again we went to Mass General to have a 2nd device placed in my heart because the 1st device did not completely close the hole. I do still have a very small shunt but not large enough to require closure.
I have very few residual affects from the stroke. I have lost most of the feeling in my right hand and it continues to be painful although I have complete use of it. Fortunately my Doctor has been able to get rid of the pain with medicine. I still have some problems with my speech but mostly when I am tired and I still have difficulty with cognitive tasks. After spending two years in speech and cognitive therapy I have gained so much of the confidence that I had lost. I am also now back to work full time with the construction company and occasionally I waitress.
Life has been difficult these last nine years and I still have a hard time sometimes but every day I count my blessings. I am such a fortunate woman. I am thankful for my husband Kevin, my son Kris, my family and friends who have supported me through this ordeal.
To those of you as survivors and their caregivers, be patient, supportive, loving, forgiving, proactive, and most important "Never give up".