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A New Mom Gains Hope from Online Community After Stroke

As anyone who has any medical condition knows, the body is a complex and fascinating thing. That complexity can lead to problems that many of us never knew were even possible. And despite modern medicine and advancing technology, doctors may never fully understand the vast complexities that the human body presents.

Carotid artery dissections (CADs) fall into the complex condition bucket. Sometimes doctors can identify a cause, such as blunt force trauma or car accident, while sometimes that can’t. When there is no physical trauma to blame, the layers of the carotid artery spontaneously separate, causing spontaneous CADs. In either case, the separation of the layers within a carotid artery compromises the flow of blood between the heart and the brain. CADs account for 2.5% of strokes, and are a common cause of stroke in patients younger than 40. That said, spontaneous CADs are under-researched and remain relatively unfamiliar to the general medical community.

Sonia from Southern California experienced the confusion around CAD diagnosis firsthand shortly after giving birth to her third child (her first son) about a year ago. While childbirth causes extreme physical strain, Sonia’s experience happened approximately six weeks after the arrival of her son. Sonia says she had a stroke about six weeks after childbirth. Then she had another one six days later. Doctors in the emergency room were unable to track the culprit. About a month later, doctors discovered a CAD on her left side.

Final diagnosis aside, a month of fear about dying and questions about her ongoing health issues left Sonia feeling at the lowest point in her life. “From the moment it happened, I thought I would die, leaving me constantly on edge,” she says. “With every little twitch, tingle and weird feeling sending me into a panic a straight back to the ER.”

An online support group helped Sonia cope with her health crisis

When the umpteenth scan finally identified the tear in the artery wall, Sonia says she still felt uneasy, largely because she didn’t even know something like that could happen. The diagnosis also left her feeling alone. Who would understand how she was feeling, especially since she looked fine and healthy on the outside? Then she found a support group on Facebook, which she credits as being the backbone of her recovery—both from the event itself and her mental recovery in the months that followed. “I felt validated for all my pain and feelings I was having because others have gone through it,” she says. “It also helped me advocate for myself in the medical world.”

On the medical front, Sonia still doesn’t have any answers. She was tested to identify underlying connective tissue disorders and was scanned for fibromuscular dysplasia, and nothing has been found. Her doctors suspect a hit to the head that caused whiplash may have caused the tear a week before the strokes started, but Sonia will likely never know for sure.

Despite the lack of medial clarity, Sonia’s experience proves the other side of the human body’s complexities, as she says the past year has taught her that she is stronger than she ever believed she was. “Today, I feel a TON better than I did a year ago—not 100 %, because I would be lying if I said all the pain and worrying was gone, but definitely significantly improved. I no longer think I will die every day, and I am able to function like a normal human being.”

It gets better, but it takes time and support

In addition to staying positive, focusing on herself and regaining her footing post-crisis, Sonia

knows that going through what she went through is harrowing and isolating, simply because it’s not something many people experience. She credits her Facebook support group with her recovery and she has an important message for any of that group’s members as well as anyone else who might be going through something similar.

“I want to let you know it does get better, and you will one day feel ‘good’! The two pictures featured in this article have significant meaning to me. The first picture was taken hours before I had my stroke. I was so happy cuddling my newborn son. I would look at this picture after my stroke and cry, wishing I could go back, feeling like I would never be ok. The second picture is me now with my family back to enjoying life with them. My one wish is that doctors can do more research in finding out how to protect others from having this happen, and to protect us from ever going through this again. I wish you all a beautiful day and days to come!”

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