My Daughter’s Story, 10 Years After Having A Stroke
Ten years ago, the Jefferson family was having a really bad week.
On April 6, 2004, my daughters, Brooke, then 9, and Lauren, who was 11, were out playing "tag" in our yard with some friends, when Brooke got a bad headache, fell down and couldn't get back up. My wife Michelle and I were watching "American Idol" inside and didn't know anything was wrong until it started getting dark. Lauren came in and told us that Brooke was "playing in the grass" and wouldn't come inside. I went out to tell Brooke it was time to come inside. I found her laying in the grass, unable to move or talk.
Brooke had suffered an ischemic stroke on the right side of her brain. Sitting next to her in the grass while Michelle called 9-1-1, I did not have any idea what was wrong. I had never known anyone personally who had suffered a stroke. I thought she might have broken a leg or maybe she fell, busted a rib and had the wind knocked out of her. And then the EMTs showed up. Even they were a little hesitant to say what was wrong.
Off to Sparrow Hospital we went, Michelle and Brooke in the ambulance and me, driving our car, with Lauren. It started dawning on me just how serious things were when I looked down at the speedometer while we were on 127, and saw I was doing 90. And the ambulance was pulling away.
We got to the Sparrow ER and there were a lot of questions and doctors buzzing around with open books and CAT scans and an MRI in the middle of the night and phone calls to family. And finally, we had Dr. Stephen Guertin in front of us - the big cheese in pediatrics - telling us that Brooke had suffered a stroke.
To Dr. Guertin, I think I mumbled something profound like, "wow". In my head I was saying, "STROKE? Little kids don't get STROKES!"
But they do, we found out. Usually they're caused by cardiac problems or sickle cell disease or diseases affecting arteries. About 6 in every 100,000 kids has a stroke. In about 1 in every 300,000, the cause is unknown. In these cases, a child will have a stroke with no clear cause and then never has another stroke. Dr. Guertin told us after some three weeks in the hospital that THAT was what had happened. Ten years later, it looks like he's right. And next time you see Dr. Guertin, tell him congratulations - in October he was named the Children's Miracle Network's "National Caregiver of the Year".
The treatment was, take a baby aspirin every day to keep your blood thinned out and keep doing therapy. So we did a TON of therapy. At Sparrow's outpatient clinic and at home.
I thought (wrongly) at the time that when you have a stroke, you're paralyzed. That's not true - you're just profoundly weak on one side. Brooke was lucky, in large part because of therapy, that her brain started to rewire itself around the affected area so she could get control of her muscles and get stronger again. I'm sure it doesn't always work out that well, but she went from being in a wheelchair during the summer to using a cane in the fall to walking with a brace by the next spring. Today she walks with a slight limp on her left side and she had to switch from writing left handed to right handed. She can write left handed, but it takes a lot longer. And, it took years, but she met her goal of getting back to shooting her left handed compound bow. Michelle was so impressed by what she saw in therapy, that she learned all she could to help Brooke and then went off and got her masters degree and became an Occupational Therapist. Today she works at Sparrow Hospital as an OT, helping adults, many of whom have had strokes.
This past Sunday, the 6th, Brooke shared her story on (of course) Facebook. Here's part of what she shared with her friends:
I will admit I used to be very embarrassed by my story. It made me stand out and different. To a point where I used to keep it a secret from everyone, even my closest friends, as if it was something to be ashamed of. I used to ask myself why I had to be the one to go through this; why I was chosen to live this life. I had a hard time adjusting from being a normal kid who loved to run and play outside to getting stared at in public as a little girl, learning to walk again with a cane.
But I’ve learned there’s beauty in being different. I’ve learned that God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle; that He gives the strongest soldiers the hardest battles.
We, as a family, got tested and got stronger, but we had a lot of help and prayers during that time from friends, family and people at the radio station, as well as the WITL "family" of listeners. To all of you, thank you.
So, here we are, ten years later. I still get asked by listeners, "how's your daughter doing?" Well, she's a college sophomore, she's one of the funniest people I know and she's doing great.
Banana Don and Stephanie McCoy amuse and thrill you every morning from 5:30 – 10AM on the radio at 100.7 WITL.
Banana Don can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @WITLBananaDon and @WITLFM. Also, Facebook friend Banana Don and Stephanie at Facebook.com/BananaStephanie and Facebook.com/WITLFM.