Survivor Sarah Conaway and her daughter Alexis
February 6, 2016, changed my life forever. My 3-year-old daughter, Alexis, had been up all night crying because of a terrible ear ache. Daniel, my husband, was out of town to attend his grandfather’s funeral, so I was single parenting. Finally, around 3 a.m., I decided to take her to the emergency room. My mom offered to go with us, which seemed unnecessary, but would prove to be such a blessing.
As we arrived and sat down in the waiting room, I began to fill out the admissions paperwork and suddenly lost feeling on the right side of my body. It was a strange sensation because I knew that part of my body existed, but it was completely numb, and I couldn’t move it. It wasn’t until noon the next day that the CT scan showed I had a stroke. I was in the right place at the right time.
The next three days are a blur with snippets of memory: my name misspelled on my wristband; the look of fear in my husband’s eyes; the look of desperation on my mother’s face; church friends showing up to take care of Alexis; my mother urging the doctors to do more testing because I was getting worse instead of better. She knew something more serious was wrong. Moms know these things.
This was a scary time for my husband. He had to continue working full time, be a single parent, and a caregiver to his wife. He went into survival mode. He began planning for the worst. He found the living will, the disability insurance information and the life insurance policy. I had just become eligible for my short-term disability and had a long-term disability policy that would kick in when the short-term expired. These policies made it possible to keep living in our home. It didn’t feel like coincidence that they’d newly become effective.
Rehabbing post-stroke was the hardest thing that I have ever done. At 34 I was re-learning to put one foot in front of the other. Learning how to function with roughly half my vision. Learning how to talk without stuttering over every. single. word. Learning how to use my right arm when it is completely limp and useless.
My neurologist told my family that a brain bleed where mine occurred is rare and someday I would walk into his office and shake his hand. I remember, six months later, doing exactly that.
I have come so far. I am forever indebted to the doctors, therapists, nurses and staff members who have helped me reach independence. Twenty months later, I have roughly 50 percent vision, aphasia, short-term memory loss, apraxia and hemiparesis, but I am ALIVE!
I always tell people that I’m like a cat because I have multiple lives. I’ve already spent three of them due to life-threatening illnesses. Multiple times a day I catch myself thinking “This is God.” And now instead of letting the busyness of everyday life distract me from those feelings, I try to stop, listen, and be present in what God is saying. I look back on life prior to my strokes and am sad at how many of these moments I let pass because of something else that I let take priority in my life. My work, doing the laundry, cleaning the house, etc., were all things that I truly felt should be on the top of my to-do list.
It is no coincidence that we were in the hospital when I had my first stroke. It is no coincidence that my daughter had been crying long enough for me to take us to the emergency room in the middle of the night. It is no coincidence that she was healthy after we arrived at the hospital and did not have an ear infection. It is no coincidence. It is God.
SARAH CONAWAY | Survivor Omaha, Nebraska