What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
I can’t even believe I’m writing this.
I never would have thought a stroke was even possible at my age. I was a normal, healthy mom, and the day that changed my life started out like any other. I woke up, got myself ready for the day, then woke the kids.
I fed all four of my babies. My twins Ivey and Ross, age 2 1/2, got yogurt and muffins, and my twins Jett and Jude, two months old, had their usual bottles. I got everyone dressed in their playclothes, and we were heading out to a fun playdate. After I put dinner in the Crock-Pot, I quickly ran up the stairs to grab gel for Ivey’s scar from stitches she'd had recently. Suddenly, I felt a strange pulling sensation weighing down on my left side, forcing it toward the ground. I almost laughed at myself trying to pull my body up, but it just wouldn’t respond.
I had no idea what was happening, but the problem was escalating and got scary in a hurry. The pulling was getting stronger and wasn’t going away. It was such an unfamiliar feeling that intuitively I knew something was really wrong with me. My only thought was of my kids. All four babies were downstairs waiting for their mommy. I had to get back down there.
I remember holding on to the stairwell on my right side, and then waking up at the bottom of the stairwell. I was throwing up. I couldn’t move. I could see just well enough to make out Ross and Ivey looking at me from the couch.
I remembered my phone was in my back pocket. Thank goodness. I never have my phone in my pocket in the house, but for some reason I did that day. I truly feel God had a hand in it being there so I could call for help. I hit “send” and my husband, Elliott, picked up. I just kept saying something was “wrong” and to call my mom and 911.
I don’t remember much once my mom and the paramedics came in, except that the worry took over because I felt helpless: My four babies were watching, and there wasn’t anything I could do. In the hospital, I was still nauseated and couldn’t see well, but I could hear everything.
The word I kept hearing was “stroke.”
I had a stroke at the age of 31. I spent time in Neuro-ICU in St. Pete, Florida, then moved to a regular room. I knew I had some weaknesses because of the lack of movement in my leg, but I still didn’t know the extent of what this whole stroke thing meant and what its side effects were. That reality hit me when I tried to get out of bed and realized I was unable to walk by myself.
Standing up and walking is something we do millions of times in our lives and don’t really think about. You put your feet down, then walk. It just works. But this time, it was as if I didn’t have legs. Like there was nothing to hold me up and my entire body fell forward. They told me it was a possibility, but nothing can truly prepare you for that moment.
After I was discharged from the hospital, there were a lot of new hurdles for our family. We had nurses and physical therapists in and out of our home. Elliott and I slept on an air mattress downstairs because I couldn’t get up the stairs yet. Similar to when children are learning to walk, I had a new “toy” that I used to get around in the form of a walker.
I was determined, and, along with my walker, I leaned heavily on my faith. There was a Christian song by the band Hillsong called “Oceans” that I listened to a lot. The lyrics literally spoke to what I was going through:
You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand
And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine
Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You've never failed and You won't start now
So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
I soon started a more aggressive form of physical therapy and did that to start my day five times a week for more than a year. With the help of amazing physical therapists and exercises targeting range of motion, nerve generation, and overall leg strengthening, I moved from a walker to a four-prong cane and then to a regular cane. I worked my butt off! I still work my butt off every day because just walking is a chore when you have to think hard about every single step.
I am proud of my journey, and I am grateful because it could have been worse. I have a small disability with my left leg and some fine motor weakness in my left hand, but I’m here, with my family and friends enjoying this beautiful thing called life.
We have learned to cherish our health and have educated ourselves on strokes. We all can recognize the most common warning signs of stroke using the acronym F.A.S.T. from the American Stroke Association. If you see or experience face drooping, arm weakness, or speech difficulty, it’s time to call 911.
The biggest thing I have learned is stroke can happen to anyone at any time. My stroke was “cryptogenic,” meaning doctors haven’t pinpointed exactly what caused it. Fortunately, strokes at such a young age are rare, but they can happen to anyone at any time, and women are at a higher lifetime risk of stroke than men due to unique risk factors and the fact women live longer, on average.
For me, I live every day with fear in the back of my mind, worrying about a recurrence. But 80 percent of strokes are preventable, so I’m doing everything in my power to live a healthy lifestyle by eating right and exercising. For the part I can’t control, I try to “Let go and let God.”
My faith, family, and friends are my backbone. Life is rarely what you imagine, but it is a beautiful struggle.