Melynda Rackley’s Why

Sunday, Aug. 5, 2013, was a memorable day for Melynda Rackley of Jacksonville, Florida.

Melynda gets a kiss from her daughter Kayla

Sunday, Aug. 5, 2013, was a memorable day for Melynda Rackley of Jacksonville, Florida.

It was the day she gave birth to her daughter Kayla. She was excited and scared heading into the operating room for the C-section. Her mother, Betty Young, was by her side, gripping her hand for support. Immediately after the birth, however, Melynda screamed because of a severe pain in her head.

Betty kept gripping Melinda’s hand assuring her everything would be fine. Trouble was, Melynda could not feel her mother’s grip. Then she had another severe headache. "It felt as if my brain was trying to get out of my skull," she said.

Her doctors assured Melynda that she would feel normal. The medications from the operation were causing the numbing sensation on her left side and the severe headaches, they said. As it turned out, the headaches were not from medicine, they were the symptoms of a hemorrhagic stroke, as was the earlier numbness in her left hand.

About 16 hours after delivery, doctors recognized the seriousness of her condition and diagnosed her stroke. She was transferred to a different hospital better equipped for stroke care, only getting to hold Kayla for a few minutes in the ICU before she left. "They wanted to give me the best chance at living," she said.

"The hardest part for me was leaving the hospital with the baby and not the mother, too," Betty said. "I asked God how it could happen that such a young girl could have a stroke."

Melynda’s stroke took her left side. She could not use her arm or hand or walk. She also had memory problems and severe depression. These deficits required therapy and she spent 30 days in inpatient rehab and three months in outpatient therapy, plus a year of weekly OT and PT.

Much of Melynda’s therapy incorporated coping techniques for taking care of Kayla. While she was in inpatient rehab, she worked with a specially weighted doll to help her transition into being a mom when she returned home. But she was frustrated that the older patients in the stroke unit were walking better than she was. She was ashamed that the medical staff had to help her perform basic things like bathing and getting dressed. Some days she wouldn’t even get out of bed. "She was so worried that Kayla would forget her," Betty said.

Her mother’s support was crucial during this time. "I remember my mom saying, ‘Kayla knows who you are, and she doesn’t care if you hold her with one hand or two, all she needs is you,’" Melynda said.

Melynda is a spokesperson for the Together to End Stroke initiative

"I was often depressed because of the sudden and instant change caused by the stroke," she said. "My family’s support was very important to my recovery. My mother and father were there at every planning session and helping me reach my goals so I could live independently."

Motivated by her desire to be there for her daughter, Melynda fought hard to overcome her deficits. The road to recovery came with many hurdles but she regained her independence. Today, Melynda and Kayla are busy creating mother-daughter memories like any healthy, modern family.

"Kayla is the average, active, inquisitive 2-year-old," Melynda said. "She is the reason I press past my doubts. She motivates me to continue to overcome obstacles and to move forwarded in life in a positive direction."

After watching what her daughter went through, Betty and Melynda’s brother, Earnestco Pender, resolved to improve their health by eating better and losing weight. Betty and Melynda have both incorporated physical activity into their lives. Melynda has even run in three 5K races.

In addition to taking care of her baby and her health, Melynda is in graduate school studying to become a licensed professional counselor. She also volunteers at the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association affiliate in Jacksonville. She is a model for the association’s Together to End Stroke initiative and shares her story often to teach others the importance of recognizing stroke warning signs.

A baby is a testament to the future, and Melynda, Betty and Earnestco all want to be there for Kayla.

"Being able to live independently and take care of Kayla is my ‘Why,’" Melynda said.

Melynda and her family recount how they felt when she had her stroke.


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