How much is too much? When faced with multiple health problems and an uncertain future, how does a person find the strength and perseverance to keep on going? Ask Melissa Grayson.
On July 29, 2009, Melissa was at home with her husband in Selma, California, when she began to feel ill. Her husband became alarmed when he saw that she couldn’t stand up without vomiting, so Melissa was taken by ambulance to St. Agnes Medical Center in Fresno, CA, where it was determined that she had experienced a hemorrhagic stroke in, and to the right, of her brainstem.
But, that was only the beginning of her ordeal. After Melissa was in the hospital for two days, her daughter stopped by to visit and noticed that her mother appeared to have worsened. It was only then that medical personal realized Melissa had experienced another stroke. She was airlifted to the world-renown Stanford Medical Center in Palo Alto, California.
By the time she arrived, the swelling in her brain was dangerously out of control. She was rushed into surgery where surgeons removed a portion of her skull and brain in an effort to reduce the swelling. With a pool of fresh blood in the left side of her head and a pool of dried, older blood, plus a blood clot on the right, her surgeons struggled to contain the damage.
After surgery, Melissa had IV lines inserted in each of her limbs to separate her numerous medications. She was on a ventilator for three weeks, but her physicians became concerned that it would cause permanent damage, so they decided to perform a tracheotomy. Since she couldn’t swallow, Melissa also had a feeding tube inserted in her stomach. Then, things went from bad to worse.
During the thirty days that she was at Stanford Medical Center, struggling to recover from her strokes, Melissa developed a deadly lung infection plus life-threatening MRSA septicemia (a methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus infection in the blood). MRSA is bad enough in an otherwise healthy person.
In a person who has been significantly weakened by a serious brain hemorrhage, MRSA is disastrous. Melissa’s condition was so grave, for so long, that her family was told to prepare themselves for her death or, at least, to accept the fact that if she did survive she would be in a persistent vegetative state.
But in a truly miraculously turn, Melissa did survive and on August 28, 2009, she was transferred back to St. Agnes Medical Center for two weeks to further stabilize her medical conditions. After that, Melissa went to a rehab facility for a short two-week stay. She worked on physical, occupational, speech and balance therapies, with emphasis on improving her balance and ability to swallow.
In October, Melissa returned home to her family and her new post-stroke life. She still had the feeding tube in her abdomen, but had graduated from using a wheelchair to a walker. The feeding tube subsequently was removed at the end of that month.
Melissa says she can’t remember what happened to her from late July until the middle of September; nearly two months are permanently missing from her memory. Luckily she retained her cognitive abilities, but her concentration is still poor. Her left side doesn’t function normally, and sensory problems have left certain areas extremely sensitive on the left.
But, there’s still one more twist to Melissa’s story. When she was at Stanford Medical Center, Melissa’s doctors determined what had caused her brain hemorrhages: Moyamoya Disease, a rare cerebrovascular disorder that causes blocked arteries at the base of the brain. “Moyamoya” means “puff of smoke” in Japanese. This describes the appearance of tiny, tangled blood vessels that form to compensate for the blocked arteries. These tiny blood vessels are very fragile and tend to hemorrhage easily.
Because of the unpredictable nature of Moyamoya, Melissa’s future is now very uncertain. While just about every stroke survivor fears having another stroke, Melissa lives with the knowledge that she will most likely have another bleed sometime in the future.
It would be easy for someone to sink into despair knowing that they will undoubtedly have a “repeat” of their stroke and its aftermath, but Melissa remains an optimist. She says that things could be worse.
Yes, she has a disease that must be watched very closely, but she’s stable for now. And, yes, her post-stroke balance and concentration problems are very debilitating, and make her life more difficult than it should be. However, she remains thankful for what she can do right now, and doesn’t dwell on what may or may not happen down the road.
After coming home from rehab, Melissa realized she could no longer work outside the home, so she went on permanent disability, and now channels her energy into running her household, and caring for her family, which includes two dogs and four cats.
She doesn’t participate in a formal exercise or rehabilitation routine, but since she still has very poor balance, Melissa makes it a point to practice her walking exercises so that, as she puts it, she doesn’t come off looking like a staggering toddler.
Melissa says that her greatest achievement since having her strokes has been to cultivate the patience and stamina that’s needed to make it from day to day. She also says that her strokes have changed the way that she views the world. For one thing, trivial problems don’t bother her as much as before.
For another, she has a renewed appreciation for the little things that make life more enjoyable. One of her favorite activities is to go with her husband on a drive along the Pacific coast, just enjoying one another’s company and the fantastic view, just taking it one day at a time.
Melissa lives in Selma, California, with her husband and six pets. You can contact her via the Stroke Network. Her user id is: missyg