Jenna Tischer's Why
Survivor Jenna Tischer with son Bryson (l) and daughter Kinley
On May 12, 2014 — Mother’s Day — Jenna Tischer of Warrensburg, Missouri, was savoring her last week of maternity leave following the birth of her second child.
She took a cellphone video of the whole family — husband Jason, 2-yearold daughter Kinley and baby Bryson — strolling around their neighborhood. Good thing, too, because that is the only way she remembers that day. That night she had a massive stroke, as a result of a spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD). A dissection of an artery leaves it collapsed and blood does not circulate properly to body organs. In this case, blood did not circulate from the heart to the brain properly and this caused the stroke (lack of blood and oxygen to the brain leads to stroke).
Jason and Jenna
About 2 a.m., she awoke feeling hot and nauseated and rushed to the bathroom. Not wanting to disturb Bryson in his bassinette, mother and father went to the living room. Concerned, Jason typed 911 into his mobile phone, but didn’t hit call.
After a few minutes, Jenna laid her head in Jason’s lap and began snoring softly before suddenly bolting up. "Her arms shot into the air like a referee signaling a field goal," Jason recalled. She was having a seizure.
Jason hit the call button and after conferring with the emergency dispatcher, laid his wife on her side on the floor. When the seizure stopped, her body went limp. Jason felt no pulse or breath and began CPR. They are both teachers and trained in CPR.
An ambulance arrived within 10 minutes. The emergency crews continued compressions for another 20 minutes, the typical stopping point. But with Jason holding a crying infant behind them, they continued for another 17 minutes, when they got a pulse. They took her to the nearest hospital where they packed her in ice for transport to a cardiac care center an hour away in Kansas City.
There, doctors placed two stents to reopen the collapsed artery and put her into a medically induced coma to help her body heal.
When she awoke, there were several anxious days of testing to see if she could breathe on her own. Several days later they realized she had lost her vision.
Jenna spent more than ten days in cardiac intensive care and a week-and-a-half in the cardiac center before moving to an inpatient rehab center, where she learned to move her right side and handle daily functions. It was weeks before the pinpoint of light she could see transitioned into a baseball-size field of vision that came and went as her brain healed.
Jenna’s heart didn’t sustain any damage, but the damage from the stroke was extensive. In addition to her vision, she had arm spasms and her muscles would suddenly clench. The stroke had caused her legs to feel hypersensitive (overactive nerves), which required pain medication.
Helping others recognize the importance of CPR has become a key issue for Jenna, who knows the quick action taken by her husband and all the medical crews worked together to save her life.
"CPR saves lives and you don’t know whose life you’re going to save," she said. "It could be a stranger in a grocery store, or a coworker or your spouse."
Jenna, now 31, also wants to share her story to raise awareness, and support research funding for SCAD.
"I look forward to the day when we’re not just meeting other survivors, but when we can understand what causes [SCAD] or what puts you at risk," she said. "It’s become such a big part of our life and I want other young women to understand that it’s not a normal heart attack."
Jenna, who has almost fully recovered and is back in the classroom, said the weeks leading up to Mother’s Day, the one-year anniversary of her SCAD, were emotionally difficult for both her and her husband.
"That holiday will always bring the most stress and most love of any holiday," she said. "I’ve always celebrated my own mother, but this year I spent the whole day in and out of tears. I am so thankful that I get to celebrate Mother’s Day and I really enjoyed being with the kids. It was hard to go to sleep that night recognizing that I almost lost them forever. Getting ready for bed I cried and cried."
Jenna has thought long and hard about her "why."
"Of course, family is why; love is why; my children are why — those are guaranteed. But making memories is why — not just watching them be made, but making them."