Kristy: “I’m a very lucky girl"
It was like the worst ice-cream headache ever. Except that it wasn’t. It was a stroke.
Just over a year ago, 37-year-old graphic designer Kristy was talking on the phone with a friend who noticed that she wasn’t responding quite right to a funny story. Kristy had already mentioned that she’d been having a bad headache for several hours, and asked again and again for her friend to repeat herself. “I think you’re having a stroke,” the friend said. “Get to the hospital!”
Not quite sure what was happening, not feeling any paralysis, and still thinking the problem would go away, Kristy drove herself to the U-M Emergency Department. But immediately after she arrived, her friend’s phone diagnosis was confirmed: It was a stroke.
Fortunately, she had arrived at one of the nation’s top hospitals for acute stroke care. The U-M Stroke Program team flew into action, and prepped her for a procedure that’s not available at most medical centers.
Called intra-arterial tPA, it delivers clot-busting medicine directly to the area of the stroke, through a catheter threaded into the brain. It must be performed within six hours of the start of a stroke — and Kristy was already in hour five. But because of the stroke team’s swift response, she received it with 20 minutes to spare.
The drug broke up the blood clot that had lodged in one of her brain’s main arteries, and prevented lasting damage. Only a few days later, she went home from the hospital’s dedicated Stroke Unit, with no lingering effects except some confusion in speaking and understanding what others were saying. “I’m a lucky girl,” she says now.
Even before she finished her speech therapy course, she was back in front of the college design class she teaches. And a few months later, she married her longtime boyfriend. This fall, they’re expecting a baby.
Of her treatment team, she says today, “I think they walk on water.
Every single person was fantastic to me.” And she tells everyone she can about the importance of paying attention to sudden brain-related changes — and of going to a major hospital like U-M immediately. “That’s where you need to be.”