My Stroke Story, Part 3 | What stroke gave me: A new normal and a mission to teach others
By Kendall Bays May 1, 2016
Through all that I have been through, I have learned to be grateful for every day and live with a light heart. I won't say that I live for the moment; There are days that I want to sleep all day because of the pain. I do, however, try to be as positive as possible because of the simple fact that I am alive.
I am not angry that I suffered a stroke at age 20, nor am I mad that I’m not fully recovered seven years later. This is my new normal. I am grateful how my stroke happened, and that I was able to get to Wyoming Medical Center so quickly. But I don't let my stroke define me. I am still the same Kendall.
For the past several years, I have made it a priority to spread awareness about stroke and advocate for its survivors. Did you know, for example, that one of every three strokes strikes people younger than 65? While it’s true that risk of stroke does increase as you grow older, stroke can and does happen to any one of any age.
When I had my stroke on April 3, 2008, I didn’t know any of its signs or symptoms. I know them now, and I think you should know them, too. Warning signs include the sudden onset of one or more of the following symptoms:
- Numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
- Confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
- Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Severe headache with no known cause
I’ve also spent my time making people aware of Factor V Leiden, a mutation of one of the clotting factors in blood and putting one at risk for developing blood clots. A couple of weeks before my stroke, I had pains in my chest and my leg was swollen and painful. I ignored it. After my stroke, I learned that my Factor V blood disorder had caused a blood clot in my leg. The clot broke off and traveled to my brain (what is called a pulmonary embolism), which is a rare but fatal complication of the disorder.
Factor V is more common than people think, and it is not tested for at birth. It often runs in the family. I feel it is so important to show people that a blood clot and a blood disorder is nothing to brush off. It can lead to stroke and death.
Advocating for stroke has led me to connect with thousands of people all over the world through social media. I'm focusing on young people – both survivors and those who have never suffered from stroke before. If children know the signs, they could potentially help a parent, grandparent, teacher or even themselves. At the very first sign of stroke, call 911 immediately. That faster doctors can treat you, the more brain tissue they can save.
I was contacted by an organization called YoungStroke, a group that advocates but also brings young stroke survivors together. YoungStroke is a fantastic group for young survivors to connect with people their age. This is where I was hooked. I am going to the first-ever YoungStroke Conference, June 27-29 in Jacksonville, Fla. I can't find the words to express how excited I am to meet survivors my age and work on spreading awareness together.
Don’t get me wrong. Having a stroke was tough and the rehabilitation was tougher. No one prepared me for going back to work. If anything gets me down, it’s definitely finding employment. I have a blind disability and so cannot drive right now. Looking at me, you cannot tell that I am visually impaired, and countless job interviews have ended awkwardly and abruptly after I tell prospective employers. At some jobs I have landed, I’ve been restricted to only a few tasks because my managers think I am not capable. However, I don't lose my smile, and I try to keep a positive outlook.
One of the best things to come out of my stroke is the bond I have formed with Jeff, another stroke survivor. We call ourselves stroke buddies. Jeff is an incredible help to me, driving me to my appointments and to work. He has sat with me in pretty much every waiting room in Casper. We relate to each other in that our strokes were caused by different things, but we had a lot of the same deficits. It's great to have the encouragement of another survivor. My favorite thing to do with Jeff is go driving. We don't do it a lot, but sometimes he lets me drive his truck on back roads out of town. It makes me feel like no time has passed and a ton of endorphins go to my brain.
In honor of American Stroke Month, I hope people who read my story will take the time to learn about stroke – if not for their own health, than for the health their friends and loved ones. Most strokes are preventable. Stop smoking. Eat a healthy diet and exercise. Control health factors such as diabetes and blood pressure. And, learn how to recognize a stroke in yourself and others.
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.