Alaina, A

Photo of Alaina, A

I am … a Survivor.


March 16, 2016 changed my life forever. At 22, I was a graduate student studying behavior analysis and working as a behavior therapist for children with Autism. I was working with a client when I dropped their snack from my left hand. When I looked down at my hand, I realized that I had lost feeling in my left arm and it was starting to spread to my neck. I called in my supervisor and we were joking “I hope it’s not a stroke”. After an hour, the sensation of having no feeling on the left side of my body was getting more and more intense. I went home, picked up my boyfriend, and drove myself to the ER. I remember fighting with my boyfriend “I am fine, I don’t want to go in. I just want to sleep it off.” Luckily, he took did not take no for an answer and pushed me into the ER. 10 minutes later, I heard all of doctor’s and nurses saying “oh my goodness, can you believe we have a 22 year old who is having a stroke”. I was given TPA and within minutes, every feeling that I had lost during the duration of two and a half hours has been gained back.

The tests did not show anything, which is typical for some young adults. However, I got sent home thinking that I had wasted everyone’s time, including my own, since I “didn’t really have a stroke”. Several months later, my neurologist ordered several tests and found out that my stroke was caused by a PFO. Six months later, I gained my life back.

For anyone in similar situations, my life did not go back to normal right away. Some parts of me will never totally go “back to normal”. I couldn’t speak sentences that were coherent, I slurred my speech, lost my photographic memory, and gained a very short fuse. Other issues included an inability to focus. To this day, I still cannot focus 100% on any task, I occasionally can not use language meaningfully, and I am not sure if I will ever have a photographic memory again. However, I am so lucky. I can still speak and write eloquently (for the most part) and I have come up with ways to overcome my inability to focus and my memory. I am still a graduate student and even though my grades took a slight dive, no one can take away my survival story. After a year, I am finally able to work on my master’s thesis in a way that is meaninful.

That story does not include all of the feelings of anxiety and worry that had come over me throughout the entire process. I spent months worrying over any little symptom that could even resemble that of a stroke. Each day I feared for my life. However, time heals all wounds. My neurologist explained to me that right after the onset of a stroke is when you are more likely to relapse. In other words, the more time that has passed, the less likely you are to have a recurring stroke. I checked off each day that I had survived and learned how to break down my life into its most basic parts. All the stuff that I had thought mattered, did not actually matter at all. After the tragedy and anxiety came so much beauty. I am able to see life through an enlightened perspective at such a young age. Of course, some days are impossible, but I will make it through. We will make it through. This too shall pass. We are all so much stronger than the events that attempt to disable our lives.

If you need to talk to someone, please reach out. Something that has helped me through this time is to talk about my journey. It’s a journey that is walked on a jagged and sharp path. However, once we come to the end, the path is so much smoother than you thought would ever be possible. My best advice is to take each day as a gift and remember all that you have. I got my first C-, but I can still breath, speak, and lead an independent life. How many 20-something year olds can appreciate such basic, yet necessary, skills?