My Stroke Story, Part 1 | From hockey player to stroke survivor, finding my power after a devastating illness
By Kendall Bays May 1, 2016
Growing up in Casper, I was a very social child. I just wanted to have fun. I loved to play outside, and I rode my bike all over the neighborhood. I made tents out of blankets in the basement and played with Barbies.
I was also pretty tough. In junior high, I started playing hockey. To say I was completely obsessed would be an understatement. My equipment felt like a second skin. Lacing up my skates tight and gliding onto the ice made me feel powerful.
On April 3, 2008, my power nearly faded away. At 20 years old, I suffered a stroke, something I had previously thought only happened to sick people or the elderly. In reality, one in three stroke victims are younger than 65, and everyone needs to know the signs and symptoms of stroke, as well as how you can prevent it.
I wasn’t a sickly child. I loved practicing my slap shot in hockey and I was always so proud to see my parents watching from the stands. I also played volleyball and laughed until my sides hurts on the bus trips to out-of-town games.
I got my first job at the Radisson at age 15. From that point on, I was a very hardworking, young adult. One of my biggest bragging rights is that I worked as a Zamboni driver at the Casper Ice Arena. Being a former hockey player that was super cool. But I still loved to have fun, like almost any other teenager. My most favorite things to do were going to concerts with friends and my sister. I've seen The Foo Fighters, ZZ Top, Justin Timberlake and John Mayer just to name a few. I had such a marvelous time going to Denver with my dad to watch the Colorado Avalanche.
At Kelly Walsh High School, I was in DECA my junior and senior year and my best high school memories were formed there. I went to nationals for my group's marketing project both years. We had so many laughs and it helped to prepare for life after high school. I graduated from KW in 2006.
By 2008, I was studying sports broadcasting at Casper College, planning to get enough credits to move to a university. My ultimate dream was to be on SportsCenter. School wasn't my most favorite thing; I’d rather put a smile on someone's face than do my algebra homework.
That March, I had chest pains for about two weeks but brushed them aside because, as a part-time student, I didn't have any health insurance. My right leg also started bothering me: It was red, swollen and even hurt to walk on. My friends and co-workers told me to get it checked out, but I thought I was young and healthy. “I’ll be fine,” I thought.
On April 2, something didn't feel right the entire day. I just couldn’t put my finger on it. I checked with each member of my family to make sure everything was OK. They were fine. Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong. The following day was a Thursday and I didn't have school on Thursdays. I usually went to the gym in the mornings, so I got myself ready to go.
I didn’t feel well. I was short of breath and still had the chest pains, so I called my mom, Kim Bays, at work. She later said that she knew right away something was wrong: My sentences weren’t really together and I was short of breath. I asked her to take me to the emergency room. She works downtown so it took her a few minutes to get to me.
I remember her knocking on my bedroom window to get my attention. And I remember telling her I’d go unlock the door. But those are the last things I remember.
I wouldn’t wake up for four days. When I did, doctors would tell me that I suffered a pulmonary embolism causing a watershed stroke and three cardiac arrests. Lying in the hospital bed and facing a long recovery, I felt powerless – for a while. But over the next seven years, I found a strength I didn’t know I had. Never have I felt more powerful.
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.