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Mary Free Bed patient just 24 when she had stroke, now healthy at 32

by Holly Grissom, stroke survivor

I was a patient at Mary Free Bed in May 2002 after having brain surgery from a cerebral arteriovenous malformation (AVM) that ruptured in my brain stem on April 19, 2002. I was 24 years old. I had actually just had my birthday 2 weeks prior.

All of a sudden, I had a horrible migraine one night at work. I went home and took some medicine; the headache went away. My children, ages 3 and 7 at the time, weren’t sure what was going on with me because my headache lasted 3 days before I went to the doctor.

When going to see Dr. Blair at Advantage Health, he couldn’t find any physical signs that anything would lead to the discovery of why I had my headache for so long. He sent me over to Saint Mary’s for a CT scan. When walking through the hallways at Saint Mary’s, I started to get blurry double vision and my right arm and leg didn’t seem to want to work too well.

I sat through my scan and waited for a doctor to read the scan. They wouldnt’ let me leave until I heard from the doctor. When the doctor came in, he had stated that I had a bleed in my brain stem area and that they were going to admit me to the hospital.

From the time I heard what the doctor had said, to the time they got me a room in the ICU on the neurology floor, I had lost the use of my right side, my speech started to slur, and I was now really seeing blurry and double.

I spent 4 nights getting MRIs, fitted for a brace on my right foot since I had drop toe, angiograms, etc. I didn’t want to have surgery at that point – I was scared! I opted for them to send me home in hopes I would heal on my own.

I was okay for 10 days. I had started outpatient therapy. Probably not the best idea. I couldn’t be left alone with my kids since I couldn’t move on my own or stand on my own. I started throwing up for no reason. My husband, at the time, took me back to the hospital where they did another CT scan, which revealed another bleed. They admitted me back to the hospital.

I then decided I didn’t care – I was going to have surgery, even if it was a 30% chance of survival. My doctor didn’t feel confident that he could do surgery in the pons (brain stem) area so he referred me to Harper University Hospital in Detroit.

I rode by ambulance all the way to Harper. After spending a week in the ICU for them to run their tests and prep me for surgery, I had surgery on May 9, 2002. I was scared to death going into surgery. What if I never saw my kids again? I worried my kids, being sooo young, that they might not remember how much their mother really loved them. I worried, too, that their father would find another woman that would love them as much as I loved them.

It had been 2 weeks since I saw them. On the day before I had surgery, my family drove them to Detroit so I could see them. That was the hardest thing for me to do: to tell them everything I could and do our special songs without crying, just in case they did remember that moment and I had passed, that they would have a great memory of me. How do you tell a 3 and 7 year old you might die? You can’t.

I went to surgery at 4 am; the surgery took 6 hours.

I made it to my room and they had punctured my ear drum during surgery. I had a spinal drain to drain the blood out of the fluid for a week before I could go to a regular room. I was alive! I made it and I was grateful! My children wouldn’t be motherless!

Right away I was able to smile, not talk with a slur, and almost had a complete functioning right side. I spent a week after surgery at Harper Hospital before I was moved to Mary Free Bed. I had the most wonderful nurses and therapists at Mary Free Bed. And the funny thing was now, Troy, a nurse of mine at Saint Mary’s in ICU, was now my nurse at Mary Free Bed!

I remember telling Dr. Kreitsch when he walked in the room for the first time that I didn’t want to be there. When was the soonest I could leave? He said, “Well, we will shoot for 2 weeks.” Just in time for Memorial Day!

That’s what I did! I worked my butt off in therapy. I remember walking down to therapy without my wheelchair, just me and my cane, took along time! I got to the room and Kristen told me that I didn’t need to do therapy that afternoon because I just did it walking down there. Or Kris always asking me if I wanted to take a short breather, and I kept pushing, telling her keep going, I want out of this place!

Well my wish came true! I was leaving on the targeted date that Dr. Kreitsch set for me! There was a set back though.

The night before my departure, I had a horrible side cramp! In the morning, they took chest x-rays. I had a million blood clots in my lungs and had to be admitted back to Saint Mary’s for 4 more days. I cried!

I started taking blood thinner shots in my stomach, was on a morphine drip, and lost all the work I had put in during my stay at inpatient therapy. But, I started feeling better!

I was sent home with more injections for my stomach and, later, started taking Coumadin. I began outpatient therapy.

I was happy to be home with my kids. They were happy to see me. I started to gradually lift my 3 year old barely off the floor. Finally, 3 months after starting outpatient therapy, I was able to lift him up all the way and almost carry him! I was sooo proud, and so was he.

My son used to come in the bathroom with me everyday I went in there, sit on the edge of the tub, and say, “Mom, let’s talk about sick.” We would sit and talk about the time mommy was in the hospital forever. And, how I’m home and never leaving ever again. He did that for about 2-3 years after. He’s grown now, and we don’t talk about sick ever.

To this day, I have no deficits from my strokes outside of fatigue and some short-term memory loss. But who always remembers where they put the keys? I’m 32 now. I feel great! And I love Mary Free Bed. I’m also an active participant in Mary Free Bed’s Stroke Support Group!

2012 update: Holly is currently enrolled at GRCC to become an occupational therapist assistant to give back. She hopes to someday work for Mary Free Bed.

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