Windsor woman survives stroke while pregnant, works to recover for her daughter | MyWindsorNow.com
Kelly Ragan
kragan@greeleytribune.com

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Windsor woman survives stroke while pregnant, works to recover for her daughter

Symptoms of stroke

» Sudden confusion,trouble speaking or understanding speech

» Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg. Especially on one side of the body

» Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes

» Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination

» Sudden severe headache with no known cause

Remember F.A.S.T.

Face drooping

Arm weakness

Speech difficulty

Time to call 911

It took months for Suzannah Preisendorf to feel like a real mom. The first time she did was when she was able to drive to the grocery store with her infant daughter, Maisy.

It was the first time she was able to drive by herself in months. She'd had to rely on others to drive her around and carry Maisy.

Preisendorf was four days past her due date when she had her stroke. Neither she nor her husband, Scott, knew what was happening.

Preisendorf, of Windsor, now wishes she'd known the symptoms of a stroke. If she had, she thinks she would have gone to the hospital sooner.

“If you notice those symptoms, go to the hospital immediately. For every minute that passes, two million brain cells die.” Brian KaiserNeurologist with UCHealth

That extra time could have made her life better.

"Maybe I would have been better off," Preisendorf said. "Maybe (the stroke) wouldn't have left me with a permanent disability."

According to the National Stroke Association, one third of people in the U.S. can't identify a single symptom of stroke. Yet it is the fifth leading cause of death in Colorado and Weld County and is the leading cause of adult disability.

Brian Kaiser, a neurologist with UCHealth, treated Preisendorf. He recommended people remember the acronym F.A.S.T., which stands for face drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulty and time to call 911.

Often, strokes show symptoms in language confusion, such as trouble speaking or understanding speech. Numbness, especially on one side, or sudden weakness also is indicative of a stroke. Strokes often cause visual symptoms, such as sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes. Symptoms also can include sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance and coordination and sudden, severe headache.

Ask the person to smile, raise their arms and speak, Kaiser said. If their face droops, one arm drifts or their speech is slurred, call 911. Time is critical.

"If you notice those symptoms, go to the hospital immediately," Kaiser said. "For every minute that passes, two million brain cells die."

Preisendorf, 28, remembers having a horrible headache. Then her right arm went limp and flailed around. That's when she and Scott decided to drive to the hospital. They didn't talk for most of the ride. Scott tried to look calm to keep her from panicking, but he was worried he would lose his wife, his baby or both.

It was unusual for someone Preisendorf's age to have a stroke, Kaiser, said. She was healthy, active and young. Pregnant women are at a higher risk for stroke because their blood is thicker, Kaiser said.

She'd started to go into labor when she got to the hospital. They gave her a clot-busting drug called tissue plasminogen activator, or tPA. It helps restore blood flow to the brain quickly and reduce permanent disability. It can be given to a patient up to 4.5 hours after a stroke, but Kaiser didn't know of the drug ever being used before on a pregnant woman on the brink of delivering her baby. He decided to go for it. Doctors delayed the delivery by a day and a half because the drug is essentially a blood thinner.

Despite the stroke, Maisy was born healthy.

Therapy was hard for Preisendorf, but she wanted to get better for her daughter. After her stroke, the right side of her body was paralyzed. She feels a constant burning sensation from her scalp to her pinky toe. She lost feeling in her right palm. She also dealt with post traumatic stress disorder. She'd freeze and get flashbacks of that night. She didn't expect that to be a side effect of stroke, but medical trauma can and often does leave a mark.

She learned to walk again. It took several weeks. Physical therapists started by strapping her right arm to a walker because she couldn't use it and supported her as she worked to stand. She practiced every day until she could walk again. Now, she can even run.

She practiced squeezing, too, to bring function back to her right arm. She got most of it back, though she still struggles with fine motor skills. She had to teach herself to be left-handed.

Preisendorf also went to counseling for her PTSD. She didn't want her daughter to be raised by a mom who was crying all the time, she said. Sometimes she still struggles, but counseling helped.

She asked her occupational therapist to teach her how to get down on the ground so she could look her newborn baby in the eyes.

It's been over a year-and-a-half now. Preisendorf can walk again and use her right arm. Some of the dexterity is gone, but she can pick up her daughter and play with her.

"I don't have complete limitations," Preisendorf said. "It's just harder and takes more thought to do things."

Preisendorf and her husband had waited to find out if they were having a boy or a girl. They'd never been able to agree on a boy's name, Preisendorf said, so it was a good thing it was a girl.

They agreed on the name Maisy, which means pearl. Preisendorf thinks of that when things are hard. It's not necessarily easy or comfortable for the oyster to make a pearl, but that doesn't take away from the beauty of the creation.

— Kelly Ragan writes features and covers health for The Greeley Tribune. Have a tip? Want to share your story? Call (970) 392-4424, email kragan@greeleytribune.com or connect on Twitter @kelly_raygun.