My fiancé (now husband) Royal Fulkerson and I were relaxing after a whirlwind holiday. With my children out with family, we snacked on shrimp before reclining our chairs for a short nap. As I leaned back, I began blacking out. Breathing became difficult, and my throat tightened. I thought I might be reacting to the shrimp when I looked at Royal, who was nearly asleep just two feet away, and I realized I couldn’t talk or move to get his attention. My right side was paralyzed.
I told myself to breathe and fixed my eyes on Royal, willing him to wake up. I don’t know how much time passed before he looked up and asked, ‘Are you OK?’ When I couldn’t respond, he sat me up, and I fell out of my chair.
In the emergency room at Williamsport Regional Medical Center, they suspected a migraine headache based on my age and good health. As my symptoms continued, a CT scan ruled out a brain aneurysm, and I was admitted to Susquehanna Health’s stroke unit. Later, a MRI confirmed that I had a stroke.
For several days, I could not use my right side, not even to hug my children. Worried that my condition was permanent, I worked with occupational and physical therapists in the stroke unit, relearning how to feed myself and walk up and down steps. I pushed myself so that I could be discharged within days to accompany my children to their rodeo competition.
Many things worked in my favor – the prompt medical attention, how quickly and enthusiastically the therapists worked with me, and absolutely prayer, lots and lots of prayers.
Continuing with outpatient physical therapy, I used tricks my therapists taught me to relearn skills. Grooming and training Kid, a young horse I bought shortly before my stroke, helped me rebuild strength and agility. He understood me. My weaker side was his weaker side, too. And every day we got stronger together.
My doctors and I needed to find out the cause of the stroke. High blood pressure, cholesterol disorders, diabetes and obesity are all risk factors for stroke, but I exercised regularly, ate a healthy diet and didn’t have those risk factors. A heart specialist diagnosed me with patent foramen ovale (PFO). A fairly common heart defect, PFO is a small valve-like opening in the heart’s wall between the two upper chambers that fails to close at birth. Because the condition enables blood clots to pass through the bloodstream, increasing the risk for stroke, patients with PFO take blood-thinning medications like aspirin.
Two years after my stroke, I feel blessed that I overcame my physical and cognitive challenges. Now married, I am working toward my bachelor’s degree to become a paralegal. I stay active with my kids’ hobbies and my own, including playing in the occasional New Covenant Academy alumni soccer game and taking care of Kid.
Stroke can happen at any age. It happened to me. Anyone having stroke-like symptoms should take it seriously and call 911.
- Amanda Harris, Williamsport