Portrait: Bethanne

In this compelling survivor story, we meet Bethanne, a resilient individual whose life changed following a rapid decline in health and subsequent stroke.

A little bit about Bethanne

I had a sore throat. It was nothing too unusual and I didn’t feel it would impact my workout routine. I started with front squats, then leg extensions, and I felt my body struggling. I later told my husband that I would be taking the next day off. I felt unwell and didn’t think it would be worth pushing it. Wednesday came and everything changed.

I dropped our daughter off at daycare before heading to work. I had a slight headache. I thought my sickness must be getting worse or maybe it was allergies. The next 12+ hours are a blur. I immediately scheduled a telehealth appointment and was prescribed migraine medicine. I tried to call my boss to tell her I wouldn’t be coming in, but as soon as she picked up, I couldn’t form a sentence. I quickly hung up. I started vomiting. No medicine was staying down. All I remember is the sight of the toilet bowl, of vomiting uncontrollably even with nothing left.

I remember my husband putting me in the car and me opening the door as we drove, to throw up. I remember the sight of the pavement, the fallen leaves, the dirt soon to be covered by me.

"How much do you weigh?" The ER doctor asked. "150."

"Don't write that down-it's not right” interrupted my husband.

They took me back to the ER and my husband had to leave due to COVID-19. I would later find out that he sat in the parking lot for 4 hours waiting for an answer.

All I remember is being rolled out to the lobby. The discharge papers saying "general headache." I don't remember sleeping. I don't remember waking up.

I remember walking into the hallway walls and stumbling over the baby gate. I remember my daughter screaming in her high chair as I tried to act “normal” for her. I told her it was okay and couldn't find any other words.

I called my doctor again. They asked my name. I said, "Feb 7, 1991." They asked again. My husband raced in the room, “Babe, what's your name?" I didn't understand the problem. I repeated my birthdate, confused as to why they didn’t understand. We took my daughter Jo to daycare and then my husband took me back to the hospital. In the waiting room, my husband asked how much I weighed, trying to be light-hearted. My sarcastic self said 352 and then my body went numb. I collapsed into my husband's arms as he held me while I began hysterically crying in terror.

I could no longer feel the right side of my body. I'd discover later I'd had a stroke.


The diagnosis

I had a stroke. My mind thinks this all happened at night when in reality it spanned all day. My husband wasn't allowed to stay with me and had to leave right after I collapsed. In a matter of a few hours, I would be taken via ambulance to another hospital. My husband knew I was being transferred and then treated. He didn't know I was having emergency surgery for my carotid artery that had collapsed, causing blood to not get to my brain.

I was awake during the surgery and felt out of my mind. They placed three stents in my carotid artery. I know now, in these moments, I was dying. Waking up and hearing I had a stroke was surreal to me. I eat well. I exercise. I've always been active, a runner, bodybuilder, powerlifter, attempting strongman, but for some reason, my body couldn't handle it.

I woke up in the same hospital my father died in 2 years prior. I woke up terrified thinking I'd never see my daughter again.


Where I am today

I am extremely grateful. I am grateful to the doctors, nurses, paramedics, and my husband who saved me.

My husband knew something was wrong and advocated for me. To this day, he is still advocating for me. My vision has blind spots that hopefully over time will go away. Writing my story took me over 2 days and my mind feels slow to process, but I’m alive.

I went three years. No strokes. No dissections. No restrictions. The same month of my stroke anniversary, I got an ocular migraine that took out my entire mid-line of vision followed by a migraine that left me vomiting for hours. I thought it was just a migraine that was so bad it broke through my medication. Two days later, my vision went out as a blur without a migraine. That same night I went to brush my teeth and couldn’t pick up my toothbrush. After several minutes, I was able to again as my husband and I debated if this was something serious—that it hadn’t been positional. I couldn’t shake that something was wrong so to the ER we went.

At the ER, I used all the buzzwords I knew to make them realize this was serious and to take me back. After a period of time waiting, the CT machine being unable to be read, and finally getting the results, I was told I had a chronic occlusion in my vertebral artery. I was told that the neurosurgeon said there was nothing to be done immediately because it was chronic. I asked if I had a dissection, and was told “no.”

I was asked to wait two hours to speak with neurology, but I knew by then that my own neurosurgeon and neurologist would be in the office and asked to leave.

We were supposed to fly out to a wedding that next morning, so we made the decision to go to the airport while waiting to hear from my doctor. If there were no problems, we’d get on the plane. If we didn’t hear or were told as such, we wouldn’t. We got through airport security when I received a phone call from the ER department saying my scan was read again and I had two dissections in my carotid artery and vertebral artery. I needed to go to an ER that could handle neurosurgery immediately. I would be admitted into the ICU and learn I also had a tiny brain stem stroke.

Currently, I am under restrictions hoping to heal naturally on blood thinners without intervention as the safest measure. I’m home with my husband, daughter, and dog. I get to eat soup on my back porch and binge on Criminal Minds. I get to order peppermint Starbucks year-round and I am excited for a Target trip.

I get to kiss Joey goodnight every night. I get all of it. I get to live.


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