Meet Nazhai — Stroke at age 16

17-year-old Nazhai shares her experience of suffering a stroke at age 16

On the 6th of June, 2018 I was at the pool with friends for the afternoon. I had an excruciating headache that wouldn’t go away, and it seemed that as the day went on it got worse. I started seeing spots and just shrugged it off like any average teen would do. Not knowing that something worse was yet to come. Being in the pool seemed to start soothing the headache slightly. Around 3:30 I started feeling pressure and it felt like a heartbeat in my head. I decided to get out of the pool and then while trying to step out, everything got worse. My fingers started tingling, and I was almost to the seat when my arm went numb. I thought maybe I was just in the water too long, so I grabbed for my towel and for some reason I couldn’t pick it up. I was alone by now because my friends had left. I thought maybe I should try to get help. I tried to stand and couldn’t get up.

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At this point I knew something was very wrong. My first instinct was to call my grandmother. She answered and I found myself mumbling trying to tell her something was wrong. As I tried to keep myself calm, I repeated myself. She finally understood and told me to call 911. I called 911 but they couldn’t understand me, they only heard me say “Help I can’t feel my right side”. I remember the lady telling me to stay awake and she was sending help. My uncle, who is a police officer, arrived at the same time the ambulance did. He heard the operator call it in and knew I was at the pool. By the time the ambulance showed up I was half responsive but could communicate a little. My grandmother arrived shortly after the ambulance.

Because it was extremely hot out and school was still in session, the First Responders thought I had a heat stroke and was under a lot of stress. I tried telling them I couldn’t feel my right side. The two Medics brought me to the ambulance and gave me fluid, but my grandmother was pleading with them that something was wrong. They told her I was dehydrated, and I would be fine, but I wasn’t. I never knew First Responders could tell the mother to take the child to the hospital, but that is what they were telling my grandmother to do. She pleaded with them for over an hour and they finally took me by ambulance to the hospital. They didn’t turn on their lights or siren, just drove the speed limit to the hospital. I  felt neglected but I remained calm and dealt with the pain.

When we got to the hospital, they told the nurse I was dehydrated and had a migraine. It took them hours to get to me. At 11 pm I was screaming and crying saying, “My head, I think my head is going to explode”. They finally came to get me so I could have an MRI done. The moment they moved me off the bed onto the table, the pain instantly got worse. At this point I was fading in and out. It felt like everything was moving in slow motion. I remember a doctor or nurse standing on my right side talking to me, but I couldn’t hear him. I finally passed out and they were able to get the MRI.

The doctor allowed them to give me morphine as I awakened. My head was still pounding and starting to throb. By this time, it was 12:30 am and I still hadn’t had any treatment. The nurse finally came in with meds for treating a migraine. Suddenly, a doctor in a white coat came bursting in. She yelled that she was sorry for not listening to my grandmother saying something was wrong because I had two aneurysms in my brain which had burst, causing a hemorrhagic stroke! She told my grandmother to call all the family because it was a life or death situation.

Finally, almost 12 hours after I initially felt my sudden, pounding headache, my numb arm and slurred speech, I was able to get treatment. I was in the PICU for three weeks and then a month in the adult stroke rehab. My recovery has been slow and very difficult. I had to gain strength, learn how to walk on my own, and endure painful therapy with electrical stimulation on my nerves and muscles. It was mentally and physically exhausting. I lost friends and even some family, but that didn’t stop me from trying to get better. It made me work harder to get to where I am now. I had to miss 21 weeks ofschool and could only manage an hour of homeschooling until I returned. And once I started back, I only had two classes that were 45 minutes each.

I wonder if my outcome would have been less severe if I had gotten treatment for a stroke right away instead of 12 hours later. I have shared my experience at family functions, at school and at my church. I hope that by sharing my story I can help raise awareness that a stroke can happen at any age. I hope that emergency providers learn to realize that if someone has all the typical stroke symptoms like a severe headache, one side numbness, and slurred speech, they should think stroke even if the patient is a teen or child.

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