My Stroke Story, Part 2 | Waking up was the first step in a long road to recovery
By Kendall Bays May 1, 2016
When I woke up in Wyoming Medical Center three days after collapsing inside my house on April 3, 2008, I felt like a very different person. Before my stroke, I was a 20-year-old college student with dreams of becoming a sports caster on SportsCenter. I woke up nearly paralyzed.
That last thing I remember is telling my mother I’d come to my door to let her in. The rest of the story I’ve pieced together from snippets from family and friends: My mom heard me collapse inside my locked house and called my dad. When they finally got inside, they saw only my legs sticking out of the doorway. They immediately called 911.
After paramedics loaded me into the ambulance, I suffered my first cardiac arrest. Paramedics saved my life. When I arrived at Wyoming Medical Center, a hospital chaplain pulled my parents aside: “Prepare for the worst,” he told them. I can’t imagine what they must have been feeling.
I suffered two more cardiac arrests in the Emergency Room. Many people worked hard to keep me going, and I am so thankful for all of them. Two people have remained close to my heart for their efforts: Kerry Barker, an emergency room nurse, and Robbie King, a flight nurse and paramedic. They are incredible people, and would always come up and visit me. Kerry would pull on my toes because they were painted hot pink, and Robbie arranged for WMC’s buffalo ambulance to take me to Craig Rehabilitation Hospital in Colorado! But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I was in a coma at WMC for three days. The day after I woke up, I went blind in a matter of hours. I had terrible, awful tremors in my arms and was in an incredible amount of pain. I lost the ability to do everything. Over the course of weeks and months, I would have to relearn how to walk, talk, tie my shoes, feed myself and more – all without my vision.
My physician was Dr. David Wheeler, a neurologist at Wyoming Neurologic Associates and medical director of Wyoming Medical Center’s Primary Stroke Center. He was the only doctor who said he thought I would make a full recovery. His belief in me was very encouraging! He examined me in the mornings, and had great bedside manner. I still see him today.
I spent 33 days at Wyoming Medical Center. Truthfully, I didn’t mind being in the hospital. I just knew that I was so unbelievably grateful to be alive. People came to visit me like I was a rock star at a VIP meet-and-greet. A couple friends came at the same time every day to see me. I received flowers, hugs and lots of Twizzlers.
The staff on nuero floor treated me and my family with impeccable care. Nurses who weren’t assigned to me came to chat or say, “Hey!” CNAs went the extra mile to help. (We even had a couple of wheelchair races in the hallway.)
After Wyoming Medical Center, I went to Craig Rehab Hospital in Colorado. I was very apprehensive to go, and my first few days were rough. There were tears. I told my parents that I wished Dr. Wheeler had come with us.
It got better, though. Much better. It turned out to be one of the greatest opportunities I've ever had. I had physical, occupational, recreational and speech therapies from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day. I even had pool therapy which was fun and extremely beneficial. My doctor and I had a common in interest in hockey. He plays on the Craig hockey team and invited me and my Mom to come watch him play a few times. We had group therapy time and I got to know a lot of the other patients.
I tried to be as positive as possible. We were able to sign up to go on outings, and my favorite outing was hot air ballooning. I sure didn't think I would be riding in a hot air balloon at rehab. Craig helped me gain back so much that I had lost.
By the time I left two months later, I was walking on my own, could dress myself and my balance had improved immensely. I had gotten comfortable there. We were a family, and we the patients made progress together.
As strange as it sounds, I am very grateful for the way my stroke happened and the person it made me. I received top-notch care, both at Wyoming Medical Center and at Craig Hospital. Before my stroke, I was quite passive and almost afraid to be myself. My stroke taught me to be positive. It taught me to be ready for tough situations. What my stroke didn't do is take away my smile, my love of hockey and painting, or the fun I have going to concerts with friends and my sister. I have had to make some modifications in my life, but I love who I am.
I am sharing my story now because I believe it is so important to know the signs and symptoms of stroke. When I was younger, I just thought that one side of your body stopped working and stroke just happened to elderly people. I am spreading awareness because I feel the population of young people are unaware of stroke symptoms.
Kendall Bays, 28, of Casper is an eight-year stroke survivor. She is an advocate for YoungStroke.org because she wants people to know that stroke can affect anyone of any age.