By Marcy Shugert
I met Bridget at an American Heart Association/American Stroke Association gathering in the Spring of 2013. I soon learned that she had experienced her stroke before she was born. Bridget was not using her left side, yet her right side was perfectly mobile. When she was four months old, it was observed that Bridget actually avoided her left side. It was then determined when she was ten months old that she had a stroke, and the stroke happened before Bridget was born.
Big and little things are affected by the stroke, but you accommodate for them
Looking at Bridget, you see a happy and healthy young lady. However, there are things that she does that are subtly different than someone who has not experienced a stroke. “I have a limp in my left leg and my gait to walk fast is not really there…My left arm and hand will turn into a hook or create a spasticity when using my right too much. I sometimes am numb to what is on my left side. It is hard at times…when I bump into things. However; I have learned tactics over the years to help avoid issues with the numb/stamina items of my body.” And that is what we constantly try to do – think about it when it happens, correct your actions if you can, and move forward.
When Bridget is typing at the computer, she only uses her right hand. Bridget also brushes her hair with only her right hand, with her left assisting. She handles her left hand as a secondary to her right, even if they are functions that people usually do with both hands equally. For instance, “brushing my teeth, cooking, walking my dog, putting on my clothes, making my bed, putting on a backpack, or tying my shoes,” Bridget lists. It is also true when she plays sports; with tennis she uses her right hand, to shooting baskets in basketball, to catching a ball in softball.
Her culinary skills are modified, as well. Sometimes, people take for granted the way you sauté and do not realize the effort behind using one hand instead of two. “I enjoy cooking,” Bridget says. Because cutting up vegetables or fruit can take longer than someone with two working hands, she finds that she needs more time. Bridget comments, “I do end up purchasing items that are already pre-cut to ensure I enjoy my cooking time. I also got a rice cooker last year and that is going to also become a huge help to ensuring I eat healthy with a helpful way of how I can cook successfully.” Trader Joe’s has many pre-cut items, and that can help when making stew, or steaming vegetables, to having your pomegranate seeds already taken from the fruit to sprinkle on yogurt.
You only have the one body; how to maximize the weaknesses into strengths through formal and personal therapy
Bridget has been in rehabilitation on and off for 30 years. She comments, “I was in traditional therapy from the time I was diagnosed at 10 months through Junior High.” She did physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. Bridget still remembers speech therapy and working on the different vowel sounds of a, e ,i, o & u!
Recently, she has done yoga classes, which helps her balance. She also runs marathons! For a good workout, she gets in the “running zone,” as she calls it, and it alleviates stress. Bridget’s best marathon time 5 hours & 25 minutes. Bridget also sees her Service Dog, Bealla, to be useful (on top of being cuddly!), “I…believe that walking my dog and using my left side to hold her leash has improved my strength.”
Alas, when you do physical training, you should do mental training, as well. So Bridget volunteers at a senior community center where she does trivia; this has helped her with pronunciation. Bridget is very active in the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, doing this year’s Heart Walk, and is a Stroke Ambassador, going to different functions speaking. In fact, she was an active participant in AHA/ASA’s Vine video that was posted on Facebook featuring the F.A.S.T. campaign to spot a stroke (Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, Time to call 9-1-1) and to get that person to the hospital immediately.
Being an in utero stroke, could tPA been administered?
Tissue Plasminogen Activator, or tPA, could not be administered to Bridget because she was not born. ”I can remember the day that it was introduced to the public,” Bridget recalled, “I was watching one of my favorite shows, sitting on our yellow ball chair that we also used to play outside with…I saw the news clip and literally dashed up stairs from the basement to my parents in the living room to share the news. Ever since that moment; I have dreamed about the day that a scientist finds a cure.”
Are there things to be avoided because of the stroke?
Bridget has gone SCUBA diving, and ventures to Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm regularly, not avoiding the roller coasters at all. She has not gone sky diving, but had not heard she has to avoid it. Bridget cannot take birth control for the stroke risks, where they heart attack and strokes could increase by double. She does not take any statins.
Living with her younger sister, she feels comforted just knowing that someone else is just down the hall. However, she says, “This is my dream-to know what it is like to feel on my left side.” New research studies are being approved for people each year; Bridget keeps an eye on all the major hospitals and institutes, and if she qualifies, she will submit her story.
Life can work in mysterious ways
Four years ago, Bridget thought she was having another stroke. Being well-versed on the signs, she called her neurologist, but she was out of town. She went to Urgent Care and a stroke code was placed out. Bridget says, “It took a few weeks to get back to normal and reduce the stressors in my life to create a positive not stressful positions… “ and she continues, “It took about a few months to completely reduce all symptom signs that I experienced in early April of 2009.” Bridget had a follow-up with my neurologist, who said that chances are low that she would have another stroke given that she takes precautions such as “eating well, and watching my blood pressure and cholesterol.” Nevertheless, to make sure is as healthy as she can be, she work out at least four times a week. Bridget comments, “My favorite spot is Lake Miramar & doing the 5 mile walk with my dog, Bealla!”
Looking up! A place where people can learn about pediatric strokes
Bridget has done a phenomenal job compiling her resources, and has developed a website and blog called the Winandy In Utero Stroke Foundation, where people can learn about the stroke she had, AND those who have experienced the same thing can take comfort that they are not alone. “It has also helped to connect myself and others on a worldwide basis,” Bridget says, “to gain knowledge & communication for Stroke, Stroke Recovery & living life after stroke. I believe that telling the world of my story through the foundation has changed my view of life. I also believe that it is great to share other people’s stroke story & connect others for resources & information to help them live life to the fullest; each and every day. This is something that I was missing growing up as a stroke survivor and I want to make sure that I help reduce that lack gap of resources, information and seeing others surviving.”
You can see the site and Facebook page here:
A positive attitude can take you places that only you could dream possible, and make them a reality. Knowing what Bridget has done has inspired me, because I know how hard it can be to create a website. The AHA/ASA has been phenomenal for us both, because it give us ways we can contribute, while at the same time do things that we love. Bridget concludes, “I believe that telling the world of my story through the foundation has changed my view of life. I also believe that it is great to share other people’s stroke story & connect others for resources & information to help them live life to the fullest; each and every day. This is something that I was missing growing up as a stroke survivor and I want to make sure that I help reduce that lack gap of resources, information and seeing others surviving.”
Thank you to Bridget for sharing this information with us. It is always helpful to know about how we can treat a stroke even if it happens before birth. You are a strong, dedicated, and a positive woman, and applying yourself to stroke research is such a marvelous feat. Onward and upward!