Portrait: Nicole

After her team finished swimming preliminaries during the conference, Nicole returned to her room to rest and later experienced an ischemic stroke. 

A little bit about Nicole

February 22-23, 2018 were the scariest days of my entire life. 

The start of Thursday, February 22, 2018 was looking promising. February 21-24, 2018, were the Northeast Conference Championships in Long Island, NY. I was a senior captain on the swim team at Bryant University, and this was the last meet I would swim. I swam the 500 freestyle, and I was SO EXCITED! I had a best time by 4 seconds- finally beating 5 minutes: 4:59.58 (4 minutes 59 seconds 58 milliseconds)! I finished 3rd place going into finals that night. When my team finished swimming preliminaries, we went back to the hotel to eat lunch and rest. My roommate and I decided to take a nap. We were both going back to finals, and we wanted to be well rested!   

As I was falling asleep, I had no idea what was to come. I abruptly woke up. I went to go get up, but I immediately fell to the floor and sprained my right ankle. Unbeknownst to me, I was numb and didn’t have any feeling on my right side. My roommate frantically woke up and tried to get me back into bed. The only word I could mouth was “um”. She got my coach who then called my parents. My coach called the ambulance, and my mom and I rode the ambulance to the nearest ER. They took me right into a CT scan to figure out what it was: AN ISCHEMIC STROKE. They say time is key when it comes to strokes. For ischemic strokes, if you are less than three hours since the start of the stroke, the doctors can give a medicine called the TPA, otherwise known as the “clot buster”. I got there in enough time to get it.  The doctors did another CT scan early the next morning. The clot was gone, however there was blood in its place, a side effect of the TPA. They had to do an emergency surgery to remove my left skull and place it in my stomach for six weeks.   

What was the cause of my ischemic stroke 

The doctors did multiple tests to see why I had a stroke. The answer was that I had a blood clotting disorder combined with the use of birth control. I did not know that I had a blood clotting disorder until my stroke. The blood clotting disorder that I have is called factor II, or prothrombin gene mutation. 

If I knew about my disorder, I would not have been on birth control. Hormones and blood clotting disorders don’t mix well together. A simple genetic blood test would have been effective in establishing the mutation. 


Stroke aftermath and coping conundrum 

Nicole_S_3.JPGThe athletic side of me took over. This was a major challenge that I didn’t ask for, but those were the cards I was dealt. Swimming was the sport that I chose and loved. Now, I had to do a “forced” sport: relearning everything. I was dedicated to getting back to my “normal” self. As a swimmer, I was used to long-term goals. I thought that if I worked my butt off for a year, I would be back to my pre-stroke self. When it comes to the brain, it’s not at all like a broken bone. A third of my brain is completely dead. I can never get that back. However, I can find new pathways to use. The term for this is called neuroplasticity. In order for neuroplasticity to work, it takes repeated repetitions (1000+ repetitions). I was on top of it EVERY SINGLE DAY. I took no days off. After 10 months, I realized that I would not be able to get my pre-stroke arm, leg, and speech back in a year. 

I felt burnt out, but I wasn’t ready to say it yet. 

I started to see a psychologist. She started to use the words “grief” and “self-compassion”. Grief, I thought, was the word to describe someone who recently lost a loved one. I never thought that it would be used to describe my own body and mind. We need self-compassion to let ourselves feel how we’re feeling without judgment. I finally told my therapists that I was feeling burnt out. They understood completely. I took a few months off from therapy and worked in the gym when I wanted to. Feeling burnt out isn’t a bad thing. Talk to your therapists. Talk to a psychologist. That’s what they’re there for!

My favorite quote 

I love the saying “YET!”

“I can’t tie my hair up with two hands, YET.”

It’s the here and then now, but it’s not forever. You can’t let yourself go down a rabbit hole for weeks and months at a time. It’s fine to have a bad day every now and then. You are alive. You’re not alone. You can do this.

Thriving and Surviving One Day at a Time!

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