Meaghan O’Brien is 25 years old young working professional with a full-time job, she is a daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, cousin and friend, She is a world traveler, a thrill-seeker and A STROKE SURVIVOR.
She grew up in a small town on the South Shore with her parents and two younger brothers. Meaghan was always active and driven growing up, playing sports and staying at the top of her class. In 2012, she graduated from Bentley University and got her first “big girl” job that fall, full of hope and dreams for what the future would hold for here. She had the best friends and the best family, She felt on top of the world and then the unthinkable happened.
Just over three years ago on a Monday night in January, Meaghan walked into the gym feeling completely normal. She sat down on a stationary bike in a small room and tried to mentally prepare myself for the hour-long cycling class. She had no idea what She would face and ultimately survive in the minutes to come.
The lights in the room were dimmed down, the music was turned on very loud, and the class began right on schedule. A few minutes into the workout, she sat back to take a sip of water. She put the water bottle back down and went to return to position, but there was a problem – she couldn’t move her left arm. Almost immediately she started to feel pins and needles throughout her whole body and thought that she was about to faint. It was obvious that something wasn’t right and she knew she had to get out of that room and get help immediately. She managed to collect her belongings and start walking towards the front desk to get help from one of the employees, a close friend of hers. She started to get very dizzy and the hallway to the front desk seemed to be growing longer and longer; she never made it to the front desk and she quickly realized that she wasn’t going to faint, she was having a stroke.
She could feel the left side of her body slipping out of her control in what was a matter of seconds but felt like a slow-motion nightmare. All she could think about was a poster she had seen probably in doctor’s offices or at work for the warning signs of a stroke. That poster reads “FAST”: F for face drooping, A for arm weakness, S for speech difficulty, T for time to call 911. Even though she knew the signs of stroke, she never knew they could apply to someone her age. With a sense of disbelief she kept repeating the FAST acronym in her head, and the more she repeated it the more she realized that even the impossible was possible.
When the ambulance arrived she repeatedly said to the EMTs “I’m only 22 this isn’t supposed to happen to me.” They asked her what symptoms she was experiencing and she confidently said, “I’m having a stroke.” At first the EMTs and later the doctor at the emergency room thought it might be a migraine, because she didn’t fit the profile of someone at risk of stroke as a 22 year old, healthy and active female. She knew my body and she knew that she wasn’t having a migraine. She is so thankful that she was able to advocate for herself in order to convince the team she needed the proper medicine to stop the effects of the stroke and save her life. Thankfully the medicine returned the blood flow and oxygen to her brain to keep her alive but too much damage was already done and the left side of her body was paralyzed.
She was transported by med-flight to Boston where she spent a week in the intensive care unit and her family was told she would likely be in a wheelchair for the rest of her life and never do anything normally again. She then spent a month in a rehabilitation hospital where she learned how to walk again, adapted to doing everyday tasks with one hand, and created her new normal life. The hospital stay validated her initial thought of “I’m only 22 this isn’t supposed to happen to me”, as she was the youngest stroke patient on the floor by at least 30 years. She worked tirelessly at an outpatient clinic for 9 months, her recovery will be a lifelong process and she is dedicated to giving it as much effort as she can because she is stronger than stroke.