In the Fall of 2006, Beth Hanley was pregnant with her first child. As any new mother-to-be, the 29-year-old was optimistic and excited about the wonderful change about to take place in her life. But, in the weeks leading up to the end of September, Beth began to experience debilitating headaches. Since she was in good health, she wasn’t very concerned because they were only headaches and, after all, she was 16-weeks pregnant.
However, on Sept. 30th, things took a disturbing turn. As the day wore on, Beth began to have difficulties on her job at the Social Security Administration. Among other things, she had a hard time keeping a grip on her pen. She shrugged off this oddity as being due to her pregnancy, but Beth’s strange symptoms only escalated once she got home.
At dinner that evening, she kept dropping her fork. And, later as she slept, one of her dogs (who rarely stirred at night) woke her up multiple times. Each time Beth got out of bed, she noticed that her walking was labored and strange. Once again, she dismissed this new symptom, this time as being caused by the baby pressing on a nerve.
Beth awoke, showered and drove to work, but by the time she got there, she couldn’t even write her name on the company’s sign in sheet. A coworker saw the trouble she was having and insisted that Beth go to the ER. Beth was rushed to Texoma Medical Center, in Denison, Texas, where after much debate and limited invasive testing, the hospital’s doctors determined that she had experienced an ischemic stroke in the left side of her brain.
But, Beth’s pregnancy posed a problem: the stroke ward didn’t want to handle her because she was pregnant and the obstetrics ward didn’t want her in their care because she was a stroke patient. Once her doctors decided on a plan, Beth remained in the hospital for seven days, followed by an eight-day stint in a rehabilitation facility, then six weeks out-patient treatment. All the while, she received physical / balance and occupational therapies.
Because of her pregnancy, her doctors were wary of doing extensive medical tests to determine why Beth had a stroke. They subsequently decided that it was brought on by a non-specific autoimmune disorder. When her doctors recommended that Beth not have any more children in the future, she developed a post-stroke depression that lingered for months.
The still-pregnant Beth headed to rehab in a wheelchair, but was discharged using a walker and an ankle-foot orthosis; after several weeks working tirelessly in outpatient rehab, she quit using both. Three short weeks after her stroke, Beth returned to the same job she had at the SSA. Her boss accommodated her needs by modifying her work schedule until she was able to resume a normal routine (she’s since been promoted). Six weeks post-stroke, she could drive a car again.
Beth continued with her therapies, knowing that she had no choice but to recover as fully as possible, as she now had another life dependent upon her. This motivated Beth and propelled her to each new level of recovery like nothing else could. She relished each “recovery victory,” knowing that it took her closer to her goal of being a dependable mother to her soon-to-be-born child. On March 1, 2007, Beth finally delivered a healthy son via cesarean-section.
Unfortunately, Beth’s debilitating headaches continued to plague her, each one provoking anxiety that another stroke was on the way. And, her handwriting changed, such that Beth can still write fairly well, but when she’s tired her writing degrades, so she prefers to type whenever possible.
Other things changed, too, but for the better. Before her stroke, Beth jogged casually for exercise. Once she was strong enough, she extended her running distances bit by bit, and graduated from running for fitness to competing in long-distance races. Last year she completed a half marathon. This year, in honor of her five-year stroke anniversary, she repeated that effort, completing another half race. Beth says that if you looked at her, you would never know that she had a stroke.
Beth feels that Matt, her husband of 10-years, was a tremendous help in getting her life back. He was, and still is, very supportive and encouraging. When Beth was in the hospital, he shopped, cooked and cleaned for their household; Beth says that he even did her hair and makeup for several months until she recovered sufficiently. Other family members, and Beth’s church and work friends, were also vital to her regaining a normal routine, shuttling her to and from her appointments, and never letting Beth give up hope that she could, and would, recover.
While running marathons and holding down a full-time job are noteworthy accomplishments after having a stroke, Beth still feels that her greatest post-stroke achievement was being a mother to her two young boys, Silas, now 4 years old, and Simeon, 23 months (Beth overcame her fear and had a second child).
It’s now been five years since her stroke event, and although she’s a seasoned, confident mom to her growing sons, Beth thinks that her stroke has also made her more nurturing of another important person: herself. Now, she “listens” to her body more and she’s less likely to “tough it out.” She investigates new symptoms promptly and gives herself a break when she’s very tired or sick. Her autoimmune problems make this mandatory, but Beth does it anyway. Aware that her health condition can catch up with her and derail her future, she’s keeping one eye on the “rear view mirror” and moving forward nonetheless.
Beth and Matt live in Denison, Texas, with their two sons and four dogs. She can be reached via the Stroke Network. Her user id is: elihan.