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Young survivor: Knowing stroke's warning signs vital

032019ch strokesurvivor

Jennifer Holley, of Creswell, smiles as she poses recently outside the administrative offices at Vidant Chowan Hospital in Edenton. In July, Holley was treated at the hospital after suffering a stroke. She was then flown to Vidant Medical Center in Greenville, where she underwent surgery for removal of a blood clot causing the stroke.

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By Nicole Bowman-Layton
Chowan Herald

Thursday, March 21, 2019

EDENTON — When you look at Jennifer Holley, you have no idea what she’s been through during the past year.

The Creswell resident has a smile that lights up her face. She’s a new mom of a boy who is almost a year old.

She’s also a stroke survivor. 

About two months after her child was born, Holley, who was 29 at the time, had what she describes as the worst headache in her life.

“I've never really had migraines before, so I actually thought ‘you know, maybe this is the migraine, and it was so bad,’” Holley said of that fateful Thursday in July. “I couldn't think and it felt like someone was hammering a nail into my brain.”

Holley said she couldn’t think straight and decided to take some Advil for the pain.

“My husband noticed that it looked like I was going to trip and fall, and I thought that was because I just couldn't focus enough to walk straight,” Holley said. “So I went and took the Advil.”

But she noticed that the water she was trying to drink with the pain reliever just poured down her mouth. 

“Again, I just thought, ‘OK, I can't think straight because the headache’s too bad, so I can't I swallow correctly,’” she said.

Holley believes that is when her stroke probably started. But her family didn’t realize it until the next morning.

“When I woke up, and I couldn't grip anything in my left hand,” Holley said. “Then when I got back to the bedroom, my husband ... suddenly it clicked with him because he had taken a course in college that taught him the signs of a stroke. So he said, ‘Smile,’ and so I smiled at him and half of my face was drooping. He said look me in the eye and I did it.”

Holley said her husband, Shawn, told her he needed to take her to the hospital. She disagreed, saying she was just suffering from a bad headache.

Fortunately, they went anyway, their baby in tow.

After they arrived at Vidant Chowan Hospital in Edenton, Holley noticed there were several other patients waiting ahead of her in the emergency room. But no sooner had she got checked in and barely sat down than she was being taken to a room.

The hospital performed several CT scans and determined she had had a stroke.

“The doctor came in and he told us that I was having a stroke and I needed to be airlifted to Greenville,” Holley said. “I know what a stroke is I've seen other people go through it. But in that moment, I couldn't comprehend it, because my head was pounding and I was just shocked. I didn't really understand anything they were saying.”

While waiting for the East Care helicopter to arrive to fly her to Greenville, Holley remembers the staff at Vidant Chowan performing several more scans of her brain. The scans showed a blood clot in her brain that would have to be removed by surgery

Also while waiting, she recalls receiving excellent care from one person in particular.

“The guy who brought me out to the helicopter — I have no idea who he was or who he worked for, but I remember when they brought me out, he was just so nice,” she said. “He was like ‘It’s going to be really bright outside. So prepare yourself and close your eyes ... because it'll be overwhelming.’”

Holley said the man continued talking to her throughout the flight, telling her that she was going to be arriving soon at an ER and that she was going to be asked a lot of questions. He told her not to be overwhelmed, that he would answer the questions for her.

After arriving in Greenville, Holley remembers the surgeon coming in and explaining the surgery she would have. After blacking out, the next thing she remembers is waking up in the hospital’s intensive care unit.

She knows the surgery lasted some time, but because everything seemed to go so fast, it felt like only half-an-hour. 

“I know it had to be a lot longer than that, because my dad lives in Daytona Beach, and he had somehow arrived,” she said. “My husband had time to drive all the way to Elizabeth City to drop the baby off with my mother-in-law, and then ... back to the house and pick up stuff from Edenton, and then ... on to Greenville. My mom drove all the way from Asheville, which is, like, five to six hours.”

Almost immediately after the surgery, Holley said her headache felt normal.

“It was amazing,” she said. “It was like night and day.”

Holley said a few days later, a physical therapist came to her hospital room and did a session with her. She said she was advised she wouldn’t need any more therapy.

Holley notes that she didn’t have any pre-existing health conditions, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, that would signal she was at risk of having a stroke.

“So I think the most important thing is that everyone should know are the signs of a stroke,” she said.

It’s just as important, she says, to make sure that loved ones know the signs as well.

“I knew the signs, but when it was happening I couldn't tell,” Holley said. “But my husband knew them and he could tell. You should know the signs of a stroke well enough that you can help someone else if needed, because you never know.”

Holley has joined several Facebook groups for stroke survivors, including one for young stroke survivors.

“I found that really helpful,” she said. “It makes me realize the amount of care I received here, compared to some of their stories, and I'm like, ‘Wow, I'm so glad.’”

Holley also attends one of Vidant’s stroke survivor support groups in Greenville. She plans to start attending one at Vidant Chowan Hospital on the third Tuesday of each month. The meetings, which are open to both stroke survivors and caregivers, are held in the Chowan Agriculture Building at 3 p.m.

Holley said that she is grateful for the quick care she received. She believes that care and her husband’s quick thinking saved her life. 

“My baby needed me and now I can be here for him,” she said. “That's what I think of all the time. I'm just glad I can be here for him and that my husband doesn't have to be single dad.”

For more information about the Vidant Chowan Hospital stroke support group, call the hospital’s Rehabilitation Department at 482-6767.

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