Posted on September 19, 2022

Crossing Finish Lines Together: Hayley’s Making Strides in her Stroke Recovery

A single word can say it all. In Hayley’s case – it was two:

“Alive” and “better.”

Those were the words Hayley Zabik, of Kalamazoo, first communicated to her family in the ICU.

Last February, 26-year-old Hayley’s parents got an early morning phone call. Hayley hadn’t arrived at work that day, which was unusual for her.

She was found at home and rushed to Bronson Methodist Hospital, where a CT scan revealed she had suffered a stroke.

“It’s very rare for someone that young to come in with a stroke,” said Dr. Kenneth Liu, a neuroendovascular surgeon at the Bronson Neuroscience Center. Hayley’s stroke was caused by patent foramen ovale (PFO) – or a hole in the heart. Everyone is born with PFO, but most often the hole closes shortly after birth. Hayley’s never did.

Due to increased pressure on Hayley’s brain, the Bronson team performed emergency, life-saving neurosurgical procedure to temporarily remove part of her skull.

“Younger patients have better outcomes over time,” explains Dr. Larry Morgan, Bronson neurologist and neurointensivist. “But at the same time, her young age put her at risk, and that’s why she needed an additional surgery to save her life.”

Starting physical therapy as soon as possible after a stroke is vital to helping avoid complications. Hayley’s physical rehabilitation started in the ICU and continued during her 21-day treatment at Bronson.

Loved ones are often a key part of patient recovery. Family members – including Hayley’s parents, her twin sisters Julie and Megan, and their family dogs, were crucial in helping Hayley moving right away and achieve milestones.

“The first few days were very stressful. But after that, we were in the best of care and on the road to recovery. They actually started physical therapy in ICU,” said Hayley’s dad, Scott.



Following Hayley’s surgeries, which included a surgery by Dr. Christopher Rogers to repair the hole in her heart, Hayley was discharged to receive specialized stroke rehabilitation. Her doctors referred her to the inpatient Stroke Rehabilitation Program at Mary Free Bed where her stroke recovery team built a rigorous rehabilitation plan.

At Mary Free Bed, Hayley’s interdisciplinary team, including physical therapist Joni Farran and speech therapist Tina Monahon, worked closely in Hayley’s rehabilitation journey.

“No two people are the same. Some people can have the same exact diagnosis of the same type of stroke, but we look at them very differently,” said Joni.

Hayley spent five weeks recovering at Mary Free Bed and crossed the finish line of her inpatient program on April 19. With goals of crossing another finish line, she continued making strides in the Mary Free Bed Day Rehab Program – which offers intensive rehabilitation care in an outpatient setting.

In June, Hayley’s positivity and perseverance paid off. She crossed the finish line of the Kalamazoo Klassic 5K.

And she’s not slowing down. Hayley’s family continues to support her recovery at home. “We watch videos from Hayley’s days at Bronson and the early days at Mary Free Bed to remind us of how far she’s come,” said Hayley’s mom, Linda. “Every day she’s doing something she didn’t she didn’t do before.”

Learn more about Hayley’s recovery and how she’s getting back to what she loves. Watch her story below: