How sitting in a salon chair almost cost a woman her life

Mar 3, 2016 at 11:52 p.m. ET
Image: Caiaimage/Gianni Diliberto/Getty Images

Few things feel better than a wash and head massage at a salon, but one California woman said that the relaxing treatment almost ended her life.

In December 2013, Elizabeth Smith went to the Blowbunny Salon in San Diego to get her hair shampooed and styled. The 48-year-old was fine when she left the salon, but eight days later she started feeling numbness in her left arm and leg. It eventually went away, but the next week she had a massive stroke.

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"I vomited, my head became hot and I couldn't stand. I had weakness in my arms and legs. They didn't think I was going to live," Smith told KGTV.

The cause? Her 10 minutes in the salon chair caused a "beauty parlor stroke," a condition that happens when the neck is overextended. Doctors who treated Smith said she hyperextended her neck, which caused her vertebrae to slice an artery that eventually created a blood clot and the resulting stroke.

"Several of Ms. Smith's neurologists confirmed with her that the stroke was caused by the vertebrae dissecting her artery during her hair wash," Smith's attorney Carree Nahama told the news station.

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Though it's rare, it has happened to other women. One case study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association in 1993 explored the cases of of five women between 54 and 84 who were hospitalized with similar neurological symptoms after receiving shampoos at salons.

"We believe the personnel didn't adequately support her neck or adjust the chair properly to compensate for the small frame of our client," Spencer Busby, another one of her attorneys, added.

Smith is hoping that her lawsuit will inspire change in the industry and cause salons to install reclining chairs and consult with their clients about any potential health problems.

"It's shocking to think such a benign activity can kill you," she said.

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The simple visit to the salon ended up costing her over $250,000 in medical bills, along with residual vision and balance problems. She's also still worried about her future since a blood clot is still in her brain — if it moves, she could die.

"So I do live with that every night. I go to sleep wondering, will I wake up tomorrow?"

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