Imagine being an intelligent, athletic, 12-year-old girl who has her whole life stretching out before her. Then imagine that, in the space of a single breath, all your exciting plans and expectations for the future are snatched away, replaced by uncertainty and unfulfilled dreams. That’s what happened to Jamie Coyle on August 9, 2008.
Prior to that day, Jamie was a typical 7th grade student at McCourt Middle School in Cumberland, Rhode Island. Well, typical but with a special passion for the sport of ice hockey, which she had played since she was three years old. In fact, ice hockey was such a major part of her life that Jamie not only expected to play in high school, but in college and possibly beyond, even daring to dream about playing in the Olympics.
On August 9th, Jamie was in Massachusetts playing in an ice hockey tournament. As usual, the play was aggressive and fast-paced, so Jamie left the ice to take a quick break and catch her breath. She was just getting ready to go back into the game when she suddenly felt an excruciating pain in her head, right behind her eyes. But, Jamie wasn’t just experiencing a run-of-the-mill headache; only three months short of turning thirteen, Jamie was having an ischemic stroke.
The next two months were a blur of hospitalization and medical intervention, followed by a lengthy course of rehabilitation. Jamie was rushed to the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, in Worcester, Mass., where she spent a month in the intensive care unit. Once she recovered sufficiently, she was sent for a month of in-patient rehab at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston, followed by out-patient therapy, which stretched out over a four year period, at Hasbro Children’s Hospital, in Providence, Rhode Island.
Immediately after her stroke, Jamie was partially paralyzed on her right side, had trouble communicating, both verbally and in writing, and had such impaired concentration that she was nearly incapacitated. She had to relearn how to do even the simplest things, such as walking, writing, and speaking clearly. Luckily, Jamie had the unflagging support of her family (especially her mother), and her friends, hockey coaches, doctors and therapists to help her recover physically, and to get her life back on track.
To get to where she needed to be, Jamie received traditional physical, occupational, speech and balance therapies, and utilized an ankle-foot orthosis and a WalkAide®, to assist her gait, as well as an electrical stimulation unit to improve muscle functioning. Her treatment plan stretched to include a few non-traditional modalities such as acupuncture and limb constraint therapy, plus yoga and Jamie’s own informal “pet therapy” with her cat, Dakota and silky terrier, Puck. She also followed the advice of a nutrition coach who encouraged her to eat lots and lots of blueberries.
Things slowly improved and Jamie became more physically able, but then she had to face a new, more-difficult psychological challenge: the reality that she could never play ice hockey at the level she was playing before her stroke. Because of her intense involvement and dedication to her sport, this realization was almost more than she could process.
Jamie’s extensive support system helped her out there, as well, encouraging her to discover how she could have a satisfying life without competitive hockey. For instance, she can still skate, and although it’s not at the physically-demanding level required for competition, she gets on the ice and volunteers her time teaching autistic children how to skate and play hockey.
Ice hockey aside, Jamie anticipated that graduating from high school would be her greatest post-stroke accomplishment, but she exceeded her expectations: she wrote a book, titled “The Luckiest Girl in the World,” which chronicles her stroke, and the successes and setbacks over her long recovery. Jamie’s hoping that her book will draw attention to the realities of pediatric stroke and the need for more research. In addition, the book has also been a springboard for Jamie to become a pediatric stroke advocate, where she is continuing to educate the public about strokes in babies and children.
Seven years out from her event, Jamie says that her right side remains compromised, and that she has lingering problems with writing, concentration, and (like many stroke survivors) occasional depression. Still, she’s set her sights on getting a college degree and becoming a physical therapy assistant. She’s also set another challenging goal for herself: to create a national pediatric stroke support and advocacy network. As such, Jamie would like her book to be a part of that campaign, and is determined to make “The Luckiest Girl in the World” an educational component in schools around the country, to increase pediatric stroke awareness overall.
To launch this effort, and give her the opportunity to communicate with other stroke survivors, Jamie has started a pediatric stroke awareness Facebook page at:
Jamie hopes this will be the foundation of her pediatric stroke awareness project, and that things will grow from here.
Having been through something that no one wishes to experience, let alone experience at such a tender age, Jamie’s perspective is well beyond that of an ordinary 19-year-old girl. She says that before her stroke, she took a lot of things for granted, but now, she appreciates her health and her family so much more. She’s learned that you should always be thankful for what you have. She also says that no matter how bad you think things are, anything is possible.
Jamie wants to leave her fellow stroke survivors with this final advice: it does get easier over time, so hang in there and keep positive thoughts. She says that survivors should to just try their hardest, and not give up on themselves, or let the negative comments of others creep into their heads, and alter their outlook and goals.
Jamie Coyle’s book is available through Amazon.com. She can be contacted via her Facebook page, or via the Stroke Network. Her Stroke Network user ID is: jamiecoyle