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It was Easter morning. I picked up my mother to bring her to our house. Being that it was a Sunday—and a holiday—traffic was light. This, it turned out, was a lucky thing. Because I happened to have a stroke on Interstate-95.
I was driving and suddenly looked at my right hand shaking as it rested on the console. My mother screamed, “Bonni, pull over! Pull over!” She waved at me but I didn’t understand. There was a disconnect.
She leaned over and veered the car into the right shoulder, where it collided into the metal beam guide rail. I remember two college-age people in a white car run up to my side of the car. Imagine driving and seeing a car slowly crash. They must have known that something must be very wrong.
The next thing I remember is watching these two Good Samaritans run back to their car. They must have gone to call 911. And then I was out. Now, 7 months later, I wish I knew who they were. I would thank them profusely. They saved my life.
I had had a stroke. The first hospital I went to by ambulance and was given a clot-buster, also known as tPA (tissue plasminogen activator). The drug, given intravenously through the arm, needs to be within 3 hours after stroke symptoms begin. I was then whisked by ambulance to Yale-New Haven Hospital, who used the innovative Lazarus technique. This next generation technology is only two years old and focuses on acute ischemic strokes. Inserted into my groin, the technology facilitates the capture and removal of clots with what looks like a thin fishing net attached to a metal wire. Once the doctors reached the clot, they trapped it in the net and removed it from my body. It’s a lifesaving procedure and I’m lucky to have received it.
I awoke in ICU, where I was for three days, barely able to talk or move. Meanwhile, my family was in a panic not knowing what the outcome would be. Would I be able to talk? Walk? Most importantly, would I make it to my son’s wedding, which was in six weeks … and would I be able to have the mother/groom dance?
I was later moved to a recovery unit, where I gained enough strength to walk. Slowly. People still had to help me. When I was finally on my feet, I was sent by ambulance to Phelps Memorial Hospital for inpatient rehabilitation.
I was one of the lucky 695,000 acute ischemic stroke victims in the U.S. Every day I live with right-side weakness. I’m self-conscious that I might look and sound “stroke-y.” My husband says, “Your voice is lower, but it’s not ‘stroke-y’. You just speak softer and slower. Your words are more deliberate."
My once beautiful handwriting is now a scrawl. Even as I type this, my hands are shaking and I have to use the “delete” tab often. I have weakness in right shoulder. My vision is double.
I was told that I would be going to see my cardiologist, neurologist, eye doctor and more for the first few months after the stroke. I also go to speech, OT (occupational therapy) and PT (physical therapy).
There are so many ifs; what if my mother hadn’t been there to steer me over to the side of the highway; if the two Good Samaritans hadn’t stopped; if I didn’t have the excellent treatment from Yale-New Haven Hospital; if I didn’t have the love and support of family and friends?
Every day I wake up and think, “I could choose to have a bad day or … I can choose to have a great day.” Not that I don’t have bad days, but I’m determined to do everything I can to get strong.
A friend recently asked me, “Name one thing you are thankful for.”
I thought about it and responded, “I’m not thankful; I’m thank-full.”
As for making it to my son’s wedding, I made it! I walked him down the aisle. (Who would have ever guessed I needed a walker just months before?) And the mother/groom dance was truly one of the best moments of my life. In his speech before it, my son said, “I learned about how to love someone from my mom.” The music he chose was perfect. The band played a lilting “The Way You Look Tonight” from Father of the Bride. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.
I’m thank-full for many things, but most of all, for being here, and for being able to share this story with you.