Amy Woodell was following life as scheduled. She had recently graduated from Texas Christian University, got married, bought a dog, bought a house and planned to be a free-lance dancer/choreographer and teach dance.
However, life took a drastic turn on May 23, 2010.
Amy had flown with her family to Washington, D.C. for her brother’s graduation from Law School. “Once at the hotel, I started to feel ill from what I thought was the travelling,” Amy explains. “I felt dizzy and nauseous all night, so my mother took me into the ER. They proceeded to take tests and sent me back to the hotel with medication for vertigo. The next morning I felt even worse. I couldn’t walk straight so my mom helped me into the shower and I fell to the floor.”
At 24 years of age, Amy suffered a severe brain stem stroke from a dissected vertebral artery. The doctors in Washington D.C. were able to go in and break up the clot, but later that night she hemorrhaged into her cerebellum. Amy fell into a coma for a couple days and woke up completely paralyzed and unable to speak.
Amy says, “Those days were so long and unknowing. I kept thinking to myself ‘Will I ever speak again? Will I ever move again? Will I ever dance again?’ My paralysis persisted for two weeks, until I slightly moved my pinky finger.”
At that exact moment, Amy’s husband of four months, Jonny was given the terrible news that his wife would never be mobile again.
Amy’s husband and father in-law stayed with her for the next 30 days in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU)……and this was just the beginning. Amy endured multiple post-stroke complications including decompressed craniotomy, bacterial meningitis, a stomach ulcer, orthostatic hypotension, followed by six months of intensive physical therapy.
The first 30 days of Amy’s physical therapy was spent at the Rehab Institute of Chicago. “That’s where the hard work happened. Mostly because my brain was recovering at the same time, so I was like a 10-year-old. I learned how to walk, talk, eat, think, tie my shoes and brush my teeth again.”
So what caused Amy’s stroke at such a young age? Unfortunately, doctors don’t have the answer. In fact, Amy had a less than one percent survival rate after her particular stroke. The only thing they can point to is a manipulation she had days prior, but other factors that may have contributed are unknown.
That’s why, no matter one’s age, family history or numbers, the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association encourages everyone to know the warning signs and risk factors for heart attack and stroke.
“I was fully functioning with no assistive devices after 10-months post-stroke,” Amy explains. “Some of my residual effects include the occasional bout of mild vertigo, fatigue, insomnia, and minor problems with my balance.”
Now 28-years-old, Amy will graduate from Physical Therapy Assistant School this year. “I wanted to give back and felt called to work in the physical therapy field. I feel that I can relate to the patients and help them in their recovery. Seeing someone recover from an injury like mine is my dream.”
Amy knows now that even the best laid plans may not be what happens. “When life throws you lemons, make lemonade; if life throws you oranges, make orange juice and make the best of it.” And that’s just what Amy has done and continues to do with her life’s story.