I’ll pick up where I left off from my last post. If you missed it, you can read the full story here:
Coming home after my stroke
Stroke is the leading cause for disabilities in the US according to the National Association of Neurology. Because my symptoms were recognized (by my husband) immediately, diagnosed fairly quickly (by the ER staff at Kaiser), and the blood clot removed (by Dr. Fields who performed a thrombectomy) all within 6 hours since my first symptom, my brain was able to “bounce back” fairly quickly. I’ll explain what I mean by that later on. :) Trust me, there was and still is quite a bit of unseen challenges and dedicated recovery protocols.
However, I left the hospital with a life-long prescription for baby aspirin (which I noticed bad side affects on this medication almost immediately and ditched it within a few weeks to seek other alternatives), a notebook with a load of lab work pointing to the fact that I was extremely healthy, and no real answers as to what caused my stroke.
I have first hand witnessed the incredible gift modern day medicine is. The common grace bestowed on man that procedures like thrombectomy’s even exist in today’s world is beyond words… I am grateful. Let that be heard loud and clear. I am grateful, thankful, blown away, and recognize the blessing it was to have the medical procedures I had. The ICU nurses called me their little miracle as this procedure, a thrombectomy, didn’t even exist a few short years prior to my stroke.
Along with the above statements, I will also say that modern medicine, although it saved my life, was unable to give me adequate care in terms of preventing another stroke and recovering from my current stroke. And to be honest, that’s not their specialty. Where we go wrong with modern medicine is when we look to the hospitals to fix every day ailments and chronic disease that could be altered by making habitual lifestyle changes. But, that’s another topic for another day.
My journey to find answers
Although I was cleared by the therapist at the hospital, I still noticed symptoms from my stroke. In fact, a few weeks later I had almost identical symptoms as my stroke for about 15 seconds. I genuinely thought I was having another stroke and my heart sank.
Other negative observations I noticed:
Consistent trouble with my speech: word finding, memory, stuttering, stumbling over words, and some sentence garbling
Anxiety: fear of having another stroke was real
Underperforming brain: cognitive trouble and extreme fatigue
Extremely low blood pressure: 80/50 was the new normal for me
Constant dull headaches and brain fog
I also made some incredible positive observations:
My resting heart rate dropped to 42 and my running mile pace increased by a full minute within weeks after my stroke. Prior to my stroke my resting heart rate hung around the low 50s
My severe migraines I had experienced since my car wreck went away
I began meeting with practitioners around OR including a functional neurological chiropractor and also a craniologist. Both of these practitioners helped me with making lifestyle changes to decrease inflammation, specifically neuro-inflammation, maintain a healthy blood pressure, and promote vascular integrity.
I also talked extensively with these practitioners about what could be the cause of my stroke. I found a functional neurologist in Maine who specialized in stroke recovery. I had a phone consultation with him.
After evaluating my family history, my lab work, my ultrasounds, and my health we came to the conclusion that I was extremely low risk, if not non-existent risk, for a stroke.
The common stroke risk factors are:
For young women my age - BIRTH CONTROL MEDICATION. Did not apply to me.
Drugs - not applicable
High blood pressure - not applicable
High homocysteine levels (associated with MTHFR gene mutation) - not applicable
Lack of exercise/obesity - not applicable
Factor v leiden mutation - not applicable
And, the last common stroke risk factor that is often overlooked, a previous traumatic brain injury (TBI).
What caused my stroke
When my car was wrecked on one of Atlanta’s busiest interstates I hit my left side of my head hard against my window. I crawled out the drivers window after the wreck and praised God I was alive. At the time many of the physical ailments dominated my medical attention and it wasn’t until a month had gone by until I realized what I was experiencing wasn’t normal. Brain injuries can be tricky as they are diagnosed over time. At that point I was officially diagnosed with post-concussive syndrome. Four months after that I was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury.
The American Academy of Neurology published research stating that those who suffer from a TBI have a 30% higher chance of having a stroke. This study was based on evaluating a population of stroke patients and looking into their medical history.
So… why? Why does a TBI increase your chance for stroke?
This is where published research is inconclusive.
The research I did with my practitioners showed us this theory. When you have a traumatic brain injury you then have a blood vessel that is tortured overtime. If your vascular integrity and inflammatory levels are neglected then that tortured blood vessel will continue to accumulate sticky red blood cells… until it eventually clots. Maybe this makes too much sense to someone like me who doesn’t have a PhD in Neurology. Ha! To me, I think of an injury that bleeds and scabs. In the brain, I had an injury that more probable than not had a minor bled, was tortured overtime (hence the out of this world migraines. Side note, those migraines were literally the only pain I have endured that brought me to tears. I didn’t cry during childbirth, when I broke my shin in half, or over any other painful injury. But these 48 hour vomit inducing monsters did bring me to tears more than once… and I pray they never return) and clotted.
My journey to understand the neuroplasticity of the brain
Because of the fragile state my brain was still in, I needed to find a way to promote healing and do the very best to care for my health and take preventative measures from clotting in the injured part of my brain again. My journey led me to one of my favorite books,
The Brain's Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity by Norman Doidge, MD
God has spared my life twice through incredibly serious situations. Why? I ask myself that almost daily. And may I never forget and take for granted all that i’ve been through and learned.
In my next post I’ll talk through some of the practical steps I took to reduce inflammation and promote vascular integrity! Tune in next time for… recovering from a brain injury.