At 28, most women aren’t worried about suffering a stroke. So what happens when the unexpected strikes? In honor of Stroke Awareness Month, we spoke with young stroke survivor Tina Paul of Detroit, Michigan. In 2007, the new mom suffered a stroke that could have ruined her life, but thanks to a groundbreaking new technology, Tina was able to get her groove back.
Strokes can happen at any age
SheKnows.com: You were only 28 when you had your stroke. Can you tell us what happened?
Tina Paul: I remember everything that day. I was 28 at the time with an eight-month-old daughter. I had my stroke at work on a Tuesday morning – a job I was just two weeks into. I was talking with my boss and suddenly started to feel weird. My boss immediately realized something wasn’t right. When he asked me, “What’s wrong, Tina?” I couldn’t answer. I started to feel dizzy. He got me a chair and called 911. I was rushed by ambulance to a hospital only a mile away. I remember being wheeled out on a stretcher and looking up at the sky and thinking, “It’s beautiful outside and what the heck is happening to me?”
Quick treatment saves lives
SheKnows: Can you describe your medical treatment once doctors realized you were having a stroke?
Tina Paul: The doctors did a CT scan and discovered I was having a stroke. I was rushed by helicopter to St. Joseph Hospital in Oakland County. My entire right side was affected as was my speech. I was administered tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) at the first hospital, and then again at the second hospital; tPA is a thrombolytic agent or clot-busting drug. It’s approved for use in certain patients having a heart attack or stroke. The drug can dissolve blood clots, which cause most heart attacks and strokes. It is the only drug approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for the acute treatment of ischemic stroke.
I went through lots of tests, trying to figure out why I had experienced a stroke. All the doctors could find was a small patent foramen ovale, a hole in the heart. The theory is that a blood clot got into that hole and caused my stoke. I decided to have the hole closed to avoid this kind of thing from happening again.
A stroke at any age is challenging
SheKnows: What was it like as a new mom to be in the hospital from a stroke?
Tina Paul: I was stunned this was happening to me. All I could do was remain calm and try to stay positive. The first night was really hard. I couldn’t see my baby and I was breastfeeding at the time. I had to have my mom pump for me because I couldn’t use my right hand. I could hardly speak and was exhausted. I had the worst headache ever. It was a learning curve for staff at the hospital. Here I am 28 and nursing—I gave the nurses a big break from the norm. After my stroke, I spent about two weeks in the hospital and was discharged the day before my 29 birthday. By the time I left, I was able to use my right arm and hand, but I still couldn’t walk. Then, after being discharged, I had to live with my parents for about a month. It was very hard! I couldn’t hold my baby and I had a hard time dressing her and myself, changing diapers, etc. Everything was different— my whole life had changed.
Coping with a stroke
SheKnows.com: What was the impact of the stroke on your health?
Tina Paul: The biggest impact from the stroke was to my right leg. I have severe nerve damage and have a hard time flexing my muscles. I can’t turn my ankle or wiggle my toes and my leg shakes often. The change in the way I walk has created problems with my back. On an emotional level, it was very frustrating to be unable to do the physical things I love, like playing with my daughter. Until recently, because of my limited mobility, I couldn’t even kneel down to play with her or take her on a walk.
SheKnows: How did you initially cope with having a stroke?
Tina Paul: I think I did really well. I’m a very positive person and I’ve been through a lot at a young age, so I think that helped me. I worked hard in therapy and was able to walk well enough to go back to work in September 2008 with a walker. I kept up the hard work and, by Christmas, I was free from a cane! I got my driver’s license back in April 2009. It was really hard in many ways, but I always knew I was going to be okay. (Even if I couldn’t wear cute heels anymore.) I knew that I would do what I needed to do to get through it all.
Recovery from stroke
SheKnows: In addition to your determination, what else has been key in your recovery from your stroke?
Tina Paul: The NESS L300 has played an important role in my recovery. I was introduced to the NESS L300 in therapy at the Detroit Medical Center in Novi, Michigan. Before going to outpatient therapy, I did some of my own research online and found Bioness and the NESS L300. I was so excited to get to use the device— I cried the day I was fitted because I knew how much the device could improve my walking. I used the device daily in physical therapy and, because I saw such great progress, I rented a device to use at home. It helped me so much I ended up buying one for myself.
New stroke technology
SheKnows: What exactly is the NESS L300?
Tina Paul: Essentially, the NESS L300 is a device designed to help those suffering from mobility issues – specifically those who suffer from “foot drop,” a difficulty raising the front part of the foot. The device is worn in three parts: a cuff around the leg, a sensor in the shoe and a controller to adjust settings. The NESS L300 stimulates the leg to help my balance and increase walking speed.
SheKnows: How long did it take for you to see improvement?
Tina Paul: It took a few weeks to acclimate to my NESS L300, but just within a few months of using it I improved my walking pattern. I could even crawl around and play with my daughter Ella, and I felt better about myself. My muscles felt like they were working and getting the exercise they couldn’t get by just wearing an ankle-foot orthosis (AFO). And it’s comfortable to wear – I prefer it over the clunky AFO I used before. The NESS L300 has made me feel like me again, like every other young mom.
SheKnows: Do you have any advice for young stroke patients like yourself?
Tina Paul: Yes: Stay positive! The road to recovery has been full of challenges. Like most moms, I have a hard time finding the time to do it all. Balancing my recovery and finding the time to do necessary exercise and keeping up with a two-year-old has been difficult. However, seeing the gains I have made and being able to play with my daughter has made it all worth it. Your life may have changed forever, but embrace the new you. Work hard and stay healthy through diet and exercise.