Kathryn M

Photo of Kathryn M

I am … a Survivor.

It all began three months prior to that one scary August night that would change my life forever. I started developing intense migraines out of the blue; I had never had a headache in my life and all of sudden I found myself getting them nearly every day. Some, however were worse than others; as the summer went on, these headaches turned into migraines. Each new migraine was worse than the next, increasing by what felt like ten-fold in intensity and duration. I went from Neurologist to Neurologist in hopes of finding a solution to what became a debilitating problem. I had had every test in the book; MRI, CT, MRE, Carotid scans, you name it, I had it. Each time, however, Doctors came up empty-handed and perplexed by my symptoms. Many Doctors offered up daily prescriptions for the prevention of migraines, while others simply told me to foster a more ‘relaxed lifestyle.’ I was a college student, how was I supposed to be more relaxed?

It wasn’t until I went for a follow-up with one of my neurologists did I finally get a diagnosis of complex migraines. The Doctor suggested I start taking a vasoconstricting medication at the onset of my symptoms.

The following week, I returned back to school hoping this would be the solution to my problems. That next week I got one of the worst migraines of my life; it had begun in the back of my head and quickly radiated down the left side of my face, leaving my jaw to be numb and my left eye without much sight. I quickly tried the new pill and went to the ER, where I began to experience aphasia. Although Doctors were quick to examine me, they didn’t have a lot of concern for a stroke due to my age and history of migraines. My headache continued into the night after being discharged, leaving me scared and concerned. These migraines continued throughout the coming days; I took the presribed medication, but without noticeable change.

Two weeks after my visit to the ER I decided to go out with friends. I had been feeling good all day and was excited to see people that I hadn’t seen all summer. We met at my friend’s house, just down the street from my apartment. While at his house, I had begun to develop an unusual headache; it came on fast with great intensity, pounding only on the right side. It felt as if someone had drawn a line down the center of my head, isolating the two sides of my brain completely. I tried to ignore the nagging sensation, but it continued. I got up to get a glass of water; when I sat down everything began to feel off. My heart was pounding out of my chest and I could barely see or hear my surroundings. My friends, who were all EMTs, came over to me, concerned with my distressed demeanor; I tried to explain what was happening, but when I began to speak everything sounded very slow and delayed. The room began to spin like never before; objects in front of me were superimposed on each other, spinning miles a minute and flying around the room. I knew I was in trouble. Concerned, my friends offered to take me home and watch me until I felt more comfortable. I tried to stand up but I couldn’t; I stumbled as I tried to walk towards the door with two of my friends by my side. At this point I couldn’t see anything; all I could hear were faint, but familiar voices. When we got back to my apartment, I sat slocuhed on the bed, trying to focus on what my friends were saying; I couldn’t understand anything. They began to perform the FAST exam on me periodically as a precaution. This continued for the next 45 minutes; I began to get progressively altered, unable to feel the right side of my body or clearly think. Seeing this decline, my friends performed the FAST exam one more time; now I had exhibited all of the telltale signs of a stroke. I had slight facial droop, arm drift, and slurred speech. My friends quick carried me to the ER. The intake provider was skeptical of my condtion, as I later found out that she believed I was ‘too young’ at the age of 20 to have a stroke. Within 45 seconds of a physian seeing me in the waiting room, he called a Stroke Alert. Before I knew it, Doctors and Nurses were swarming around me, wheeling me to the CT machine. Shortly after, a team of Neurologists met me in my room, where they immediately administered TPA. I remember sitting in the bed not fully aware of what was insuing, but knowing that I was very sick. The look of fear in the Doctors and Nurses’ faces said it all. They kept emphasizing how young I was; one of my Nurses even thought she was in the wrong room, as like most people, she didn’t expect a 20 year old to be having a stroke.

Early the next morning as I groggily awoke to my Mom’s panicked face, I was told that I had suffered a stroke the previous night. The Neurologists believed it was due to the vasoconstricting medication I had been taking for my migraines the previous days leading up that night. This lead to an occulsion of a blood vessel in my brain, preventing it from getting oxygen.

Although this experience is still so new, I have come to look at life a lot differently. I am so thankful for my friends who graciously and diligently stayed with me for the duration of the night. Without them, I may not have been able to return to the amazing life I had been living; they saved my life and I am so grateful for them everyday! If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this experience, it’s that life is a lot more fragile than we think, something that most of us take for granted; one day we are healthy and living our best lives and the next we are put in situations that test our will to fight.