When I Had to Re-Evaluate My Life After Having Strokes at 16

Just this past December, when I was 16 years old, I had multiple ischemic strokes and seizures. My brain was dying and I was losing myself. The first MRI showed that my frontal lobe was affected on both sides. After the second stroke, the next MRI showed that the affected area had grown on the right side of my brain, as well as down the side and towards the back on the left side. I didn’t learn any of this until I was fully awakened from a medically induced coma three days later.

My brain couldn’t comprehend what these results meant, but my parents tried to explain as best as they could. The first few days after I woke up I couldn’t talk, which was terrifying. I had to relearn how to speak and read, relearn how to count and do basic math, even relearn how to write essays like this. It was so difficult to organize my thoughts and it still is, but each and every day I make progress.

Even so, the challenges I’m facing are still so different than what everybody else at my school has to deal with. On my first day back, four months after I had my strokes, we were tasked with writing an analytical essay in English class. I hadn’t gotten to practice much in the hospital, so I was extremely nervous. Not only was my speed of writing affected, my thoughts were so jumbled. I looked around the small classroom, at everybody writing faster than me. They seemed to just get to it, immediately knowing what to do; me, well, I didn’t know where to start. I felt bombarded, absolutely unprepared.

All I knew was that I had to get something on that perfectly lined paper. So I did what I do best: I pushed through. I just started writing, spilling out my thoughts on paper. I began to organize the words and sentences into the form of an essay. Freaking out inside, I held my composure and kept going. Class was over in a short 90 minutes, and I had only just finished my rough draft. Everyone else had completely finished; rough and final draft alike. I was crushed.

Before the strokes I was a highly accomplished student who could have easily finished the essay inside a class period, just like my peers. I was heartbroken. I prided myself on being a top student and now … this? Now I write slowly and unsurely. Now I doubt myself more. Now I am truly different. I did not want to feel how I felt inside. My perfectly planned world was crumbling. It was being ripped right from my weak grasp.

Yet it also brought light into my eyes. I had most of my life planned out and this experience showed me that there are going to be obstacles, whether it be a brain disease that causes strokes or the fear of failing. I still had trouble accepting who I had become and letting go of who I was — one of my biggest challenges. I had been unrealistic, thinking I could lead a perfectly planned life. It was my stroke of insight: that I had to re-evaluate my life to really succeed. Realizing I needed to get past these obstacles was what motivated me to finish that essay. And so I did.

The next class period, I tried to perfect it. When I finally decided it was up to the standards of a well-written essay, I walked to the teacher’s desk nervously, knowing everyone was looking at me, and handed it in. When I turned around I stood up straight, as if to prove I was confident, and walked back to my seat. I let out a sigh of relief. I had just persevered to complete the challenge of the day. Knowing I had much more challenging tasks in my future somehow didn’t bother me. I had fulfilled what needed to be done that day.

I know to this day that part of me, the part that was so determined, the part I love about me most, the part that really shows who I am, stayed with me. Through the months of agony and torture from the strokes, it stayed with me. My most valuable asset stayed with me through the changes in my brain and that’s why I still have hope: hope to be a better me, me times 100. I know I will get there.

Leah in the hospital with her two sisters

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