While teaching a Pure Barre class, a full-body, ballet-inspired workout, I had a stroke. There were twenty dedicated clients in the studio, but all of a sudden, I couldn’t see out of my left eye. There were areas of black, everything was blurry, and there were flashing lights. I signaled to a healthcare professional in the class that something was wrong in case I got worse. Knowing she was keeping an eye on me, I taught the rest of the class. Luckily, the symptoms went away but my head hurt badly. Several people suggested that I might have just had my first migraine. I did a quick search and found that the vision issues were very typical of the aura that often precedes a migraine headache. I felt better after reading this, took an Excedrin and made a mental note to call my doctor after the holiday weekend.
However, the next morning, Labor Day, it happened again. Except this time, I couldn’t walk, crossing one leg over the other and stumbling until I sat down on the floor. I also couldn’t use my right arm; it was limp and ineffectual at my side. This concerned me, but I also had the vision symptoms and the headache. So I thought it must be another migraine, or a continuation of the first.
My father, a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, urged me to go to the MGH Walk-In Clinic. The care I received was incredible. I had never met the physician, Dr. Bruckel, before, but he was compassionate, thorough, and he saved my life. I passed my neuro exam with flying colors, but Dr. Bruckel did not want to make the diagnosis without ruling everything out. He ordered an MRI. The MRI showed a stroke in my cerebellum. A stroke in a 25 year old brain; I was terrified. A subsequent CT scan also revealed a dissection in my right vertebral artery. This is a tricky diagnosis for something that is pretty rare – only about 1 in 100,000 people suffer vertebral artery dissections. And mine is pretty interesting — I got it while getting my hair cut the day before. The doctors determined that the extension of my neck over the edge of the sink while getting my hair shampooed caused the injury to the artery. The blood clotted at the dissection site in the vessel wall and threw two clots up to my brain.
I am one of the lucky ones. My doctors didn’t take my word for it that it was a migraine, and I did not suffer any permanent damage. Because I am healthy and a runner, my brain has developed enough circulation to provide the blood flow to my brain so it continued to function during and after the strokes. I had incredible medical care and I have no permanent damage. I am so grateful to everyone who has been there for me, and I am grateful that I sought medical care when I did. I had no idea someone my age could have a stroke, and I hope that no one else ever has to. If Dr. Bruckel had not ordered the MRI, my story could be much different. He visited me when I was admitted to MGH two days after I met him, and I was able to thank him then, but I wanted to share my story and gratitude with others.