February 6, 2016 changed my life forever. My three-year-old daughter had been up all night crying because of a terrible earache. My husband was out of town to attend his grandfather's funeral, so I was single-parenting. Finally around 3 AM I decided to take her to the emergency room. My mom offered to go with us, which seemed unnecessary at the time, but would prove to be such a blessing.
As we arrived and sat down in the waiting room, I began to fill out the admissions paperwork and suddenly lost feeling on the right side of my body. It was a strange sensation because I knew that part of my body existed, but it was completely numb and I couldn't move it. It wasn’t until noon the next day that the CT scan showed I had a stroke. I was in the right place at the right time.
The next three days are a blur with snippets of memory. I remember they had my name spelled wrong on my wristband, I remember the look of fear in my husband's eyes and the look of desperation on my mother's face. I remember seeing church friends show up and take my daughter while telling us not to worry about her and let them know what we need. I remember telling the nurse that I had the worst headache I had ever had and then falling back asleep. My mother urged the doctors to do more testing because I was getting worse instead of getting better. She knew something more serious was wrong. Moms know these things.
After an MRI they realized I had had a second stroke, which was hemorrhagic. My brain was bleeding. My husband recants the phone call he received from the doctor while he was at swim lessons with our daughter. He had to make the snap decision to counteract my blood thinners in order to save my life. The lesser of two evils while my brain was filling with blood. A shot of Kcentra would thicken my blood to stop the bleeding. However it would also make me extremely susceptible to more clots and more strokes. Isn’t Coumadin supposed to prevent clotting? It didn’t make sense.
This was a scary time for my husband. He had to continue working full-time, be a single parent, and a caregiver to his wife. He went into survival mode. He began planning for the worst. He found the Living Will, the disability information, and the life insurance policy. After reviewing the paperwork he realized that I had just become eligible for my short-term disability one month prior to my strokes because of a waiting period due to pre-existing illnesses. He also found out that I was given a long-term disability policy through my employer that would kick in after the short-term policy expired. Without these policies, we would have been unable to continue living in our home. The fact that those policies were in place, in addition to just newly becoming effective, was not just coincidence.
When I was finally able to speak they asked me what my daughter's name was and I said "Purple". I have no recollection of this time. I was completely bedridden and had to relearn basic activities of daily living that we take for granted every day. My neurologist told my family that the area in which I had my brain bleed is very rare and because of where it occurred, someday I would walk into his office and shake his hand. I remember six months later walking into his office and I remember shaking his hand.
Rehabbing post stroke was the hardest thing that I have ever done. At 34 years old I was relearning how to put 1 foot in front of the other. Learning how to function with roughly 50% vision. Learning how to talk without stuttering over every. single. word. Learning how to use my right arm when it is completely limp and useless on my right side.
One of the most difficult things post stroke other than rehabbing has been finding my new identity. Before my stroke I was a successful director of marketing and spearheading a $50 million expansion in Omaha, Nebraska. I was recruited from the East Coast to lead this project’s marketing and we were finding much success! My career was definitely my number one priority besides my family and I gave it 110%. I allowed it to define who I was and when that was completely stripped out from underneath me I was left feeling empty, worthless, and unsure of who I was.
I am still trying to figure out the new Sarah. The new Sarah is a full-time mother, a church volunteer, a hospice volunteer, a writer, and she watches children after school. The new Sarah is a Stromie and she gets to write blogs to encourage other survivors and their loved ones. She is happy and constantly redefining who she is. Even though I am still grieving the loss of pre-stroke Sarah, I am growing to love the new me. The new and improved Sarah.
I have come so far. I am forever indebted to the doctors, therapists, nurses, and staff members who have helped me reach independence. Just over two years later I have roughly 50% vision, aphasia, short-term memory loss, apraxia, and hemiparesis, but I am ALIVE!
I always tell people that I'm like a cat because I have multiple lives. I've already spent three of them due to life-threatening illnesses. Multiple times a day I catch myself thinking "this is God". And now instead of letting the busyness of every day life distract me from those feelings, I try to stop, listen, and be present in what God is saying. I look back on life prior to my strokes and am sad at how many of these moments I let pass because of something else that I let take priority in my life. My work, doing the laundry, cleaning the house, etc. these were all things that I truly felt should be on the top of my to-do list.
It is no coincidence that we were in the hospital when I had my first stroke. It is no coincidence that my daughter had been crying long enough for me to take us to the emergency room in the middle of the night. It is no coincidence that she was healthy after we arrived at the hospital and did not have an ear infection. It is no coincidence. It is God.
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.