Anyone, at any age, can have a stroke, including unborn babies, newborns, children and teenagers. In the U.S., stroke affects about six in 100,000 children.
Elijah Rutherford, 9, had a stroke in utero, before he was born. His stroke was first suspected at 19 months during a session with a speech language pathologist. According to Elijah’s mother, Jennifer, the pregnancy was largely uneventful. When she heard that Elijah might have had a stroke in utero, she couldn’t believe it, but an MRI confirmed the suspicion.
Looking back, Jennifer feels that there were subtle hints—even during the pregnancy. For instance, during all the sonograms, Elijah was always in the same position—he never moved. When born, Elijah was at a healthy weight, but he had trouble feeding and keeping his food down. As he grew, Elijah didn’t quite meet his developmental milestones. He did not walk until 19 months and favored his left hand.
When Elijah first started therapy, he had very little use of his right arm and hand. He constantly kept his hand in a fist and it took a long time before his arm muscles stretched and it became easier for him to move. Elijah stayed determined and practiced, even on his own. Therapy was difficult and painful for him and he and his mother often cried.
When he got older, Elijah wanted to let everyone know about pediatric stroke and share his experiences with other young stroke survivors. Together with his mom, Elijah started the Traveling Awareness Bears, a nonprofit organization that sends stuffed bears around the world to visit children in the hospital. The bears help the children better understand their medical condition and show them that they are not alone. Pat and Patricia, the original stroke awareness bears, have since been joined by more than 80 bears with different medical conditions.