Guest Writer Zach Alvira
May is National Stroke Awareness Month.
There was a time I thought only people who were older adults were at risk of having a stroke. I have learned that this is not necessarily true and anyone at any age can experience a stroke. I have also learned that being aware of the warning signs and getting medical treatment quickly saves lives and can improve the recovery from a stroke. Most importantly, I have learned through my own journey that having an incredible team of people supporting me makes a huge difference in my recovery from a stroke.
On March 18, 2016 I had a stroke at the age of 14.
A few days before I had the stroke my parents told me that I would come home from school very tired and would have a headache. The headache became more intense the day before I had the stroke. I recall very little of that week but I do recall the morning of the stroke. I was getting ready for school and I believe I fell face-down on my bed. It might have been I lost consciousness because I’m not sure how I ended up face-down on my bed. I remember I attempted to get up but I could not get my arms or legs to work. I remember having difficulty speaking and I understand from my family my speech was slurred. I tried to express myself but what I was communicating did not make sense. The next thing I knew I was in an ambulance going to Sanford Hospital in Fargo because my family and I were told I had a stroke. I had a great medical team that got me stabilized, ran every test possible to find answers to why I had a stroke, and started my rehab to recover from the stroke. I learned I had a brain stem stroke. After discharge from the hospital, I had physical therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy that was so important to my recovery. I want to thank Lucas who was the physical therapist who worked with me right after I had the stroke and he is now working at Apex. Lucas, I just want to say it was during a tough time but you saw me through it and because of you, it made it easier for me to go to Apex because I knew it would help me.
During my freshmen year in high school I continued to have difficulty with intense headaches, my left side of my body was weakened by the stroke, my left arm would become bluish and feel cold, my speech slurred when I was tired and I had difficulty at times with swallowing. I did not want the problems to affect my classes, homework, friendships, and I just wanted to enjoy my high school years. I have always enjoyed all sports and participated in as many as possible. I always enjoyed being a member of a team. I could no longer participate in contact sports but I was a devoted fan in the stands and always will be.
My parents contacted Apex and spoke to Brooke to explain the difficulties I was having and appointments were scheduled. I actually was one of the first patients at Apex in Jamestown and have the honor of being “THE OG.” (Brooke refers to me as “THE OLD GOAT”). I participated in physical therapy and cranial sacral therapy. The therapy was so helpful for me. I really thought my left side was sleeping because it was always cold and numb. I finally knew I had a left side of my body as funny as that sounds. The headaches stopped and I felt like I had some energy. I also had a full smile not the half smile after the stroke. Brooke and Kayla- thank you for working with me through those though times with the headaches and the frustration with the weakness on the left side of my body.
You helped me stay focused and the therapy made a huge difference in my recovery. You were there for me!
I continued physical therapy with Kyle and he worked with me to increase my strength and my balance. Kyle you really helped me to keep building on my weakest areas and my balance. Thank you for getting me so much stronger in my recovery and feeling more confident. Also, thanks for putting up with my sports talks!
I want to say a big shout-out to both Apex and I Will Fitness and Training in Jamestown because they partnered to do a strengthening and conditioning program that could not have happened at a better time for me. The work with Apex gave me more energy and instilled confidence in me so that I was ready for this program. Lindsey Cramer and Ned Simpson with I Will were the training instructors for the program and Kyle would test and show the improvements made through the program. I continued strengthening and conditioning with Ned after the program was completed. Ned provided me the encouragement, support, and was a great mentor. He helped me to believe in myself and to never give in to giving up. Thank you Lindsey for the encouragement to keep working hard and push me in training.
You knew I could do it even though I didn’t think I could do it myself.
There have been times that I need physical therapy because of areas that weaken and I am fortunate to have Apex in my community. Casey has been helping me with swallowing. The muscles seem to tighten in my throat and I have trouble swallowing. It can be a problem when I am eating. Thank you Casey for all your help and for putting up with my sports conversations.
I think I mentioned that I liked being on a team and so I like to think that I had my own team of some incredible people with a lot of knowledge and skills… a team that saw me through tough times and continue to be there when I need them!