Stroke Awareness Month: A stroke of resilience

In recognition of Stroke Awareness Month, Living Well spoke with stroke survivor Jessica Bennett. At the time of her stroke, she was a mother of a 5-month- old and 4-year-old, enrolled full-time in college and worked a full-time job. We asked her to share her story of stroke and survival.
My life was everything it was supposed to be. I always stayed active, with my family, working and perusing my Human Resources degree.
The day before I began to have a headache, I was sensitive to light, nauseous and off-balance. On Nov. 27, 2012 I woke with the same headache. I was extremely tired, and something didn’t feel right. I was in the middle of cooking and my balance was off so I decided to lie down.
While laying down I started to feel pain in my right arm that felt like a blanket of bricks on my body. It was such a scary feeling. I tried to get up to check on the food, but could not move. After a few minutes, I could feel and move my left side, but I had no sensation in the right side of my body.
My boyfriend, Rohan, took me straight to the hospital, which the doctor said was critical in saving my life.
I had three neurologists. They took a series of tests and blood work to pinpoint the cause. As results came back inconclusive, my physician told me to prepare not to be able to use the left side of my body again. I was in a daze, trying to comprehend that I could perhaps never walk again. It didn’t kick in until I was admitted.
I stayed in the hospital for a week, taking physical therapy and having my blood pressure monitored every day. The fifth day after being admitted, I was able to lift my left arm. The strength was measured from 3-5 out of 10. This was a huge accomplishment since I was told I would never be able to move my left side.
After a week I was transferred to a rehabilitation center for six weeks. That was the worst part because I was away from my children. The youngest person in the nursing was 67 and I was 25. The experience at the rehabilitation center was difficulty due to the age barrier. However, the age for stroke patients is getting much younger.
I took physical and occupational therapy every day. Occupational therapy is working on daily and living work skills in everyday life. Physical therapy works on body functions. I did exercises with my legs using a walker or cane. I had to learn how to do everyday functions with the walker and the cane.
During an occupational session my therapist suspected I had brain damage. She gave me a test where I was asked a series of questions to see if they could be remembered in 60 seconds. I was only able to remember two words out of two question.
Doctors confirmed I had damage to the right side of my brain, which affected my social communications.
It is believed that once you lose brain cells, you can’t get them back and that’s not necessarily true. If you constantly practice you will be able to regain them. They gradually came back. I practice as much as possible and also tried to regain some of the emotion that was lost from the stroke. I had to learn to write with my left had since I could not use my right hand anymore.
Today, I am still working on the emotions where I am not connected with other people emotions. I take it one day at a time. I have to be very understanding and those around me have to give a grace period to calculate the correct emotion.
I have slowed down a lot because I don’t want to have another stroke. My family says I am back to normal.
As far as school, that situation changed my life. I wasn’t happy with human resources. I found my passion from having this stroke. Now I have a passion for physical therapy and I changed my major. I have four months left before I graduate and take the National Physical Therapy Exam to get my license.
I want to have my own practice and travel to Third World countries because they have no idea what physical therapy is and I want to be able to give back to those in need.


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