Portrait: Kristin

On December 23, 2022, when I was 36 years old, I was finishing up my workday and very much looking forward to the holiday weekend with my niece and nephew, brother, boyfriend, and parents when I felt a sudden whoosh while shoveling snow outside.

A little bit about Kristin

It was around 3:30 in the afternoon and I just needed a quick break, so I decided to go outside to shovel some snow.

I was about 10 minutes in when suddenly I felt this whoosh feeling in my head, followed by the sensation that I may pass out.

I just told myself, “It is so cold outside, you need to get yourself back in the house before you collapse”.

As I was climbing the stairs to the main level of the house, I was talking with my boyfriend and he commented that I was slurring my words and said I proceeded to walk into things once I made it to the main level. He instantly thought I had hypothermia, so he began trying to warm me up. That is when I realized just how bad my head hurt.

I had never experienced a headache like that before in my life, and I was in so much pain that I was vomiting profusely. Next thing I knew, my neck began to hurt and became so stiff that I couldn’t move it. I had no idea what was going on, but I knew that I needed to finish up my workday and deal with this.


A misdiagnosis followed by brain surgery

As soon as my workday was over, I took some ibuprofen and thought I would just sleep the pain off. I stayed in bed until Sunday, Christmas Day, and with no relief I knew I needed to go to the hospital. There was a small neighborhood hospital that had just opened down the street from us, and when I saw the doctor, he did a slew of neurological checks on me and said he believed I was suffering from a migraine. So, with that, he gave me a “migraine cocktail” of pain meds through an IV, and after about 30 minutes sent me on my way.

As soon as I got back home, I went right back to bed and, again, thought I would just need to sleep it off. The next morning, December 26, 2022, the excruciating pain from my headache woke me up, and I just knew there was more going on than a migraine. And again, back to the neighborhood hospital we went. I was in so much pain and so sick to my stomach that I couldn’t walk and needed a wheelchair. The doctor immediately ordered a CT scan. Not long after, the doctor came back and said the pain was from a brain hemorrhage from a ruptured aneurysm. She immediately called transport to get me to Allegheny General Hospital (AGH) in Pittsburgh, where the neurosurgeon was waiting for my arrival.

Once at AGH, I was immediately taken for a contrast CT scan, followed by an angiogram where I was diagnosed with a subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH), a life-threatening type of stroke caused by bleeding into the space surrounding the brain, from a middle cerebral artery aneurysm. My neurosurgeon opted for a craniotomy to clip the aneurysm due to the shape and location. The very next morning, December 27, 2022, I was taken for my surgery, which was a success. I don’t remember much from my time in the ICU, aside from having my drain removed and having 2 more staples put in my head...but what is 2 more staples when you already have 33?


Following the surgery

Image of Kristin's scar from the brain surgery.I had not only survived days before truly knowing what had happened, but after the surgery, I had somehow retained my neurological abilities. I was able to talk and walk around with the assistance of someone else. Occupational and physical therapy even came in to see me, and after that one visit they both said that I didn’t need them.

Now, just shy of a year into my recovery, I find myself struggling internally. I am so fortunate to have survived, and to be “normal” again, but I don’t feel normal. One of the most frustrating things I hear is, “oh you look and sound great!” I wish I just felt as great.

“All I can say is, not all scars are visible once your hair starts growing back.”


My support system

I know I have come a long way over a 10month period. I have so much support from my amazing friends and family. From my parents who spent their entire days with me for almost 3 weeks while I was in the hospital, my brother who left his family and travelled back home to be there for me after my surgery, my boyfriend who spent his days working and evenings and weekends with me at the hospital, and lastly all the friends who came to visit or sent messages or cards. I also need to mention the incredible support from my manager and co-workers. They were so supportive as I eased back into work. I even started a new role since being back. That support, and role change, has made my transition back into work so much less scary than I was anticipating. I know I still have a way to go in my recovery, but the support of everyone is such a big motivator.


What helped me during recovery

My neurosurgeon told me that the best form of exercise is something everyone takes for granted: walking. My boyfriend, my rock, who is on this journey with me, makes it a point to go for outdoor walks with me after work and on weekends, weather permitting. I also enjoy cooking, and spending time in my happy place, the Outer Banks. Every experience, small or big, has a lot more meaning to me these days as there was a time where I didn’t know if I would get to have more.


My advice to other survivors

The advice that I would give other survivors, navigating a similar path and journey, would be to be easy on yourself. Don’t let the frustration take over, and don’t lose your confidence. So many times, I’ve questioned myself and have been frustrated with how far along I feel I am in my recovery, and thinking I should be further. It is okay to need to lean on those around you to get you through.


One of SameYou’s purposes is to help survivors feel that they haven’t lost the person they were before. Each survivor portrait is unique, yet there is a common understanding between survivors of the challenges that they face.

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