A single stroke

By Ashley Burton, RN

I still have trouble believing it happened, but at the age of 30, I had a stroke.

While out for a run, I noticed a cramp in my shoulder, similar to a Charlie horse. When I got home the pain traveled down my arm and up into my neck. I thought it was something I did during my run, so I took a shower and let the hot water hit my muscles.

But after the shower, I started to feel dizzy and nauseous. Then I developed a headache. As I nurse, I believed my symptoms were that of a migraine, although I had never had one before. I took from pain medicine and went to bed.

When I got up the next day, I still had a dull headache at the base of my head and felt dizzy. The dizziness is what brought me to my doctor. Since I didn’t have a history of migraines and my headache was at the base of my head, my physician recommended I go to the Emergency Department at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital. Once there, I had a CT scan followed by a MRI. Both tests showed a large stroke in the right bottom part of my brain. I was shocked. I was young and healthy. How did I have a stroke?

I was admitted to the hospital and stayed for five days. Several tests later, it was discovered I had vertebral artery dissections in the vessels of my neck. The doctor explained it is a small tear in the inner lining of my artery that caused a blood clot to form. Vertebral dissections can occur after physical trauma, but in my case, it happened spontaneously. A piece of the clot broke off and traveled to my brain causing the stroke.

The neurologist told me the headache would get worse before it got better due to my brain swelling after the stroke and that I would be dizzy for a couple of weeks, but that I shouldn’t have any long-term effects. He also told me I was extremely lucky. That if the clot traveled to a different part of my brain, or I did not come to Lutheran General Hospital—a certified Primary Stroke Center—when I did, the results would be been devastating.

My family and friends were overwhelmingly supportive, caring, and wonderful. I am so grateful for the nurses, physicians and my entire care team at the Advocate Brain and Spine Institute at Lutheran General Hospital. Today I am back to my normal self. I was told by my neurologist that I should continue to live my life and I am at no more risk of a stroke than anyone else.

It has been almost four years since my stroke. Sometimes it feels like it happened yesterday and other times it feels like it was a just dream. I still work at the hospital and I recently got married with hopes of starting a family soon. My wish for anyone else going through a stroke is to remain positive and focus on the wonderful people in your life.

The Advocate Brain and Spine Institute at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital is the beneficiary of this year’s gala. Philanthropic support of the program allow the hospital to expand its services, acquire the latest tools and provide the extra training and education our caregivers need to remain at the top of their field.