A typical stroke patient is 60 years of age or older with: A family history. Pre-existing conditions. Health-damaging habits. A long-term lack of fitness. But Rachal Hansen is anything but typical. Here is her story, in her own words:
At the time I had the stroke I was 38 years old. I exercised regularly. I ate a well-balanced diet. I didn't have the kind of behaviors that contribute to an unhealthy lifestyle. I had some stress with my job in advertising and the usual challenges that come with raising two young teenagers. But my overall health was good. Right up until the moment I had a stroke.
I had driven down from Richmond to visit my parents in Poquoson. I remember having a bit of a headache but it wasn't anything that concerned me. I had been in their home just a short time when I collapsed. Fortunately, my parents had recently received a refrigerator magnet in the mail from Riverside. It described the signs and symptoms of stroke using the FAST acronym which includes a reminder to call 911 immediately if those conditions exist. I was aware of leaving in the ambulance and arriving at Riverside Regional Medical Center thinking this can't be happening to me. When we got there the care team all knew their specific roles like performers in a symphony orchestra. Because Riverside is designated as a Comprehensive Stroke Center they were ready for me when the ambulance pulled in.
After that, most of what happened was described to me later. I was told my symptoms were very pronounced and included severe weakness in my left arm and leg, left facial droop, slurred speech and the inability to see and even be aware of anything in the space around my left side. I initially received an injection of a clot-busting drug followed by the mechanical removal of the clot itself, a procedure called thrombectomy. At the same time, the care team also found a growing tear in my carotid artery which they were able to treat by placing a tiny metal coil at the site of the damage. All of this emergency treatment was done entirely within the walls of the blood vessels using very small instruments. I learned later that Dr. Ramakrishnan, the physician who performed the procedures, is an exceptionally well trained and skilled neurointerventional specialist. But at the time, my family thought of her simply as the person who helped save my life.
Since the stroke I've been involved in some intense occupational therapy. I look and sound the same and don't have any of the speech, coordination or mobility problems people tend to have following stroke. But I definitely have some deficits. My short-term memory has been affected and I have some numbness and vision issues. I'm also experiencing some challenges related to problem solving and critical thinking, as well as multitasking, all of which are capabilities I need for my work in an ad agency. So those are the kinds of areas I've been working on with the therapists who are very patient with my sometimes lack of patience. It's frustrating because it's not like recovering from a broken bone or some physical injury where you can see gains on a daily basis. But I know I'm progressing and I've got a lot of encouragement.
Now, a big part of my focus is on preventing a second stroke. I take medications that help avoid clotting, I make sure I'm always well hydrated and I've already made alterations in some of my activities. This has been a life-changing experience for me but throughout all the changes, the one constant has been the exceptional care I've received from Riverside doctors, nurses and therapists. I can't really praise them enough. They were also wonderful with my family.
I know there's still a fairly long road to get back fully to my life at home and at work. But I'm very motivated. With the kind of support I get from Riverside team members and my family and friends I know it's a journey I can complete successfully.