San Jose, California
In September 2018, 12-year-old Mariah Fisher suffered a massive stroke caused by an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) in her brain.
Before the stroke, she was an energetic, athletic seventh-grader.
After the stroke, she couldn’t speak, walk or use her dominant hand.
Mariah’s stroke happened just before a school volleyball game, when she noticed she was having trouble speaking. Her mother, Rebecca, rushed her to the hospital. Mariah became unconscious at the ER, and she had emergency surgery that day.
More surgery followed, along with intense physical, occupational, speech, music and recreational therapies. Mariah persevered, and less than seven weeks after her stroke, she walked out of the hospital under her own power.
Later, Mariah underwent CyberKnife radiation to treat her AVM, which occurs when a tangle of blood vessels in the brain bypasses normal brain tissue and directly diverts blood from the arteries to the veins. Mariah may need to have another brain surgery if the radiation didn't get all of the AVM.
Over time, Mariah relearned basic skills such as talking and walking and began writing and drawing with her left hand. She became so proficient with her nondominant hand that she won an award in the 2019 Rare Art Contest, which the EveryLife Foundation for Rare Diseases conducts each year. In a winner’s reception in Washington, D.C., she spoke to about 200 people.
A budding inspirational speaker, Mariah has also spoken at a school assembly, her father’s workplace, a San Jose City Council meeting and The Aneurysm and AVM Foundation (TAAF) Walk in San Francisco. She and her mother hope to write a book recounting her story in the near future.
Due to her stroke and rehabilitation, Mariah missed nearly all of the seventh and eighth grades. Yet, she’s on track to graduate from high school a year early.
Mariah’s mother marvels at her daughter’s positive attitude: “I haven’t heard her complain one time.”
That attitude shines through in some of Mariah’s T-shirts, including ones that read, “I’ve Survived More in One Day Than Most Do in a Lifetime” and “I had a stroke, what's your excuse?”
A quote from pastor Charles R. Swindoll that she used with a seventh-grade school project perhaps best describes Mariah’s post-stroke journey: “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”