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Finding new appreciation for Mother's Day after illness

On March 28, 2016, I suffered a stroke. I was 40 and healthy; I worked out every day and ate right. On paper, there was no reason to think a stroke would happen to me.

I learned I had a vertebral artery dissection, a tear of my artery thought to be caused by a chiropractic adjustment. After visiting the chiropractor a few weeks earlier, I had started getting strange migraines. The day of my stroke, I had been biking when I got the same headache and felt ill. I went home and upon cracking my neck, I immediately became numb on my left side. My face and eye drooped. My speech slurred while calling 911. My 12-year-old daughter watched the whole thing, and both of my kids saw me leave in an ambulance.

It was the longest I have ever been away from my family.  

Because of my age, the doctors thought I was just having a migraine, but two days later, when my symptoms had not improved, they found the stroke. I was hospitalized for a week and a half with vertigo and double vision, and in a care facility for two weeks after that. It was the longest I have ever been away from my family.

Stroke from a chiropractic adjustment does happen—some people die, and others are significantly disabled. I am lucky to have survived. I want people to know this can happen. I wish I had known.

I’m determined to relearn to walk and bike, enjoy life, and see my kids grow up. I have a new appreciation for the elderly and those who are in care facilities. I see people with disabilities as humans—I say hello and talk to them like people.

Though my story is not over yet—I am currently working through depression and grief for my ”old” self—I am learning to find the “new” me. The word "normal" among stroke survivors implies prestroke, and it is not a word any of us like. When people say I look normal, I take offense because many of my challenges are now invisible. To say that I look normal denies what I have been through. My stroke has taught me to be a more empathetic person, to enjoy the present and appreciate all that I have.

I savor Mother’s Day more than before—I’m grateful this is a day of happiness for my children, and not one of sadness.

On the first Mother’s Day after my stroke, I was reminded of that appreciation. I still get to be a mom. And not only that, I get to be a daughter to a mother and mother-in-law who, luckily for me, are still here. I savor Mother’s Day more than before—I’m grateful this is a day of happiness for my children, and not one of sadness.

And they make me feel so loved. Last year, I received handmade cards from my children and felt a sense of gratitude that felt different from before. My parents also came over to help my daughter and me plant flowers in the garden. In the moment, it made me sad that my mother was helping me like I was old and elderly, but I recognized how sweet the gesture was—I was forced to recognize my vulnerability to my physical condition, and accept the help I needed.

I haven’t really thought about my plans for this year’s Mother’s Day. All I know is that I am proud to be here for my children and my parents, and that I will feel endless gratitude as I spend as much quality time with my family as I can.

By Jennifer Holmstoen Lee

Health, Illness & Injury