But I'm only 26!
September 17, 2013 started out like any other day... My husband, Ryan, went off to work, Lily, my 2-year-old daughter, and I had breakfast, and then we settled on the floor to play and watch Nemo.
Around 11am, I had the strangest feeling in my head: I was dizzy, and it was like the room around me was suddenly fuzzy and cartoon-like. I don't exactly remember doing it, but I dialed Ryan. In the seconds after that, I realized that my right arm wasn't moving - in fact, I couldn't move it at all. Lily was beginning to cry, and was getting in my face saying, "Mommy? Mommy?" Then I realized I couldn't speak. The more I tried to speak, the harder Lily cried until she was screaming. It hit me that something was terribly wrong, and I needed help.
I was on the floor, and I couldn't get up. I knew I needed to make a call, but I couldn't figure out what to do with my phone. I was alone with Lily, and she was hysterical. I crawled to the front door, and somehow managed to open it. Leaning in the doorway on my completely paralyzed right side, I waved frantically with my left arm and yelled. Who knows how awful it sounded, but I couldn't make words come out. I was so nervous... I knew most of our close neighbors work during the day, and being in the back of a quiet neighborhood, there isn't much traffic. But after a few minutes, a car drove by and my neighbor came running across the street. She asked me what was wrong, but all I could do was point at myself and shake my head. She got the idea, and told me she was calling 911. The passing car must have realized something was wrong, and stopped as well. Then I was exhausted. Someone saw me, they were getting help, and I just laid down.
Then I heard Ryan's voice. It was like a lifeline, for me and for my scared Lily. He had answered the phone when I called, and I hadn't realized it! Later, he told me that when he answered, he thought I had "butt-dialed" him because things sounded far-away and garbled. Then he realized the garbled sound was me, and he heard Lily begin to scream. He dialed 911 and raced the 5 miles home from work. The police arrived around the same time as Ryan, and paramedics were a few minutes behind them.
By the time the paramedics arrived, my symptoms were starting to resolve. In fact, the police officer told the paramedics my "face looked like a stroke" but they thought I was "too young for a stroke." I am thankful, though, that the ER docs at the hospital took my reported symptoms so seriously. I was in for a CT scan quickly, and when that showed nothing, I was sent immediately for an MRI. That is where the stroke was evident. I was shocked! I had the same thought as the paramedic: "I'm only 26! That's too young for a stroke..."
The next morning, I has a transesophageal echocardiogram, that discovered a patent foramen ovale (PFO). A PFO is an opening between the atria of the heart that is present while in the womb, but usually closes soon after birth. Under certain conditions, this opening allows circulation to bypass the lungs. In my case, a blood clot bypassed my lungs (where it would have likely been "filtered" out or, if it was big enough, would have caused a pulmonary embolism) and went to my brain causing an ischemic stroke in my left parietal lobe. Considering my relatively boring past medical history and the results of the multitude of tests that were performed, the neurologist and cardiologist I saw basically said to call them again if it had another stroke. I had absolutely no risk factors for blood clotting or strokes. While a PFO is common in persons with cryptogenic (unexplained) strokes, at this point it isn't routine to close a PFO until a person has had more than one stroke.
Needless to say, this scared me. I was put on aspirin therapy, but I felt like I was just waiting around for the other shoe to drop. We got another opinion. Thankfully, I was a perfect candidate for a major research study going on, studying the relationship between PFOs and recurrent strokes. As a part of this study, I was selected to have my PFO closed with a closure device, which was done in January of 2014, and I'll be followed for the next 5 years.
Amazingly, I feel better than ever. I am so fortunate to have no lasting effects from my stroke.