Each day is a beautiful gift. I've always been grateful, but sometimes things unfold in your life that multiply that level of gratitude....
I have taught fitness classes for over 25 years. I've run marathons and have always maintained a healthy lifestyle. My husband Jon and I together have 4 fabulous kids.
On December 7th, 2012, I woke up in the morning feeling terrible. At first I thought I had the flu. A short time later, it felt like thunder and lightning were going through my chest. I went into the bathroom, thinking I was going to be sick. I sank down on the floor, and everything may have ended there for me. Jon was supposed to be out of town on a hunting trip with a good friend that day. At midnight the night before, Jon received a text message that perhaps they should cancel the hunting trip because the direction of the wind had changed. I like to think the Holy Spirit was helping out with that :)
Jon came into the bathroom and asked what he could do. I said the words "Help me." He said he knew that was serious because I'd never used those words before. I then said "Hospital." I fully believe that Jon saved my life, before the doctors took over. I don't think I would have called 911 for myself. The kids had just gone to school.
On our way to Lakeside Hospital, we were sitting in school traffic. I was crashing fast. I barely remember Jon telling me to hang on as he drove in the ditch to get me around the traffic. When I arrived at the ER, it took all my energy to sit in the wheelchair. I was quickly taken back to a room. Jon was ushered out of the room, and the last thing I remember was him holding my hand. We said the words, "Through thick and thin...".
A while later the Doctors came out and said they were still doing tests. They knew something was terribly wrong, but my heart showed no blockages. Moments later, code blue was sounded. My family was told that things had gone from bad to worse. CPR was being performed on me. I coded twice-- once for fifteen minutes, before I was revived. At that point, I had 5% heart life, and I was not expected to live. The Doctors told my family to say goodbye to me.
I was life flighted to NE Medicine. The doctors told my family that I would not likely survive the flight. I did get to NE Medicine, and I was immediately hooked up to ECMO. ECMO is an amazing machine that does the work of your heart and lungs, when your body cannot do so. All my organs had shut down. I was hooked up to dialysis. I had at least one stroke. My blood pressure was documented at 300/155 more than once. Jon signed to put me on a list for a heart transplant, if that would save my life. My poor family spent the better part of a week at the hospital. Jon was by my side. He slept in a chair next to my bed and he believed for the both of us, that I could somehow survive.
As the week progressed, Doctors noticed that my heart was slowly getting stronger. They prepared my family that the severity of the strokes, coding for 15 minutes and then some...might have me not knowing who I was, yet alone know who they were. My medical care was top notch. My family, friends, coworkers and people I don't even know were praying for me. On Dec. 12th, 2012 (12-12-12!), my heart came back fully functional! I would not need a heart transplant. When the Doctors did surgery to take me off of ECMO, my blood pressure soared over the top, and I nearly coded again. To add to the list of issues the docs were dealing with, there was also a tumor detected on my right adrenal gland.
God wasn't finished with me yet. Two days later, I woke up. It wasn't romantic, filled with kisses and off for a cheeseburger and "happily ever after" like in the movies. I was strapped down to the bed because I was hooked up to so many medical devices. Though medicated, I remember waking up that first time like it was yesterday. I did not remember what had happened. But I woke up. Everyone was very excited. I recognized my family that was in the room. When asked if I was hungry, I said the word "cookie." One word can be a victory. My family was thrilled--that's her they said! I have always had an appreciation and weakness for fresh baked cookies. Warm. With peanut butter and chocolate in them if possible. Yum.
The docs were excited. My case was rare. The tumor I had was a condition known as pheochromocytoma. It is estimated that over half of pheo cases are found in autopsy. Mine had thrown me into heart failure, at least one stroke, organ failure, ECMO, and broken ribs and a cracked sternum, from all the CPR I received. I was unable to use my hands or to walk. I could barely speak a fluent sentence because of stroke aphasia. But I woke up. Waking up, opening my eyes, smiling. I remember thinking “well at least I woke up!”. When Jon, doctors and family told me of the crazy events over the past week, it seemed unbelievable. But my first thoughts were, "Thank you God that I get to go to my daughter's high school graduation” and “This has to be some kind of miracle." I love it that I didn't wake up fearful. My next thoughts were.....WHO BROKE MY RIBS?!
I flunked nearly every question I was asked. I couldn't do kindergarten math. I couldn't name the president. Or the hospital I was at. My brain was a big malfunction. It felt like files were scattered all over, and I couldn't figure out how to organize them. The annoying part was that I knew that much, and it was humbling.
Positive thinking is what got me through. I tried to focus on what I could do, not what I couldn’t do. I’d had a strong mindset from beginning, a heart full of gratitude and faith, even prior to this event. After waking up from my near death experience, I would find one good thing each day to be thankful for and build on that. I refused to focus on what I couldn’t do. In addition to physical limitations, I was dealing with aphasia. When I couldn’t get out what I was trying to say, I wouldn’t let myself get frustrated and I decided to take one day at a time.
Part of my healing has come by reaching out and helping others. When I get frustrated, I think to myself “I might be having a bad moment but I’m not having a bad day”. Prior to my strokes, I was always very thankful, but this experience has intensified it ten fold. I’d been a Mary Kay sales director 20+ years and a fitness instructor for 25+ years. I returned to these things after my stroke and continued to strengthen my body and my heart.
The Stromies are a group of three women who were fortunate enough to have met through The American Heart and Stroke Association of Nebraska at the beginning of 2018. They live in Omaha, Nebraska and run a blog to support fellow stroke survivors. Stromies means homies who have had strokes. Social media has connected them with other stroke survivors from all over the world. Every stroke survivor that they have gotten to know shares one big thing: hope.