Heather's Stroke Recovery

My wife Heather and I live in central Florida with our two sons, age 16 and 11. Heather and I have been together since 2011 and were married in 2014. She teaches English as a second language remotely to children overseas, and her students find her presence just as wonderful as I do. Heather has a glowing smile, a quick wit and a laugh that warms any room she’s in. She is the love of my life, my best friend, and we spend every moment possible around each other. She’s only 38 years old.

On the morning of Sunday, June 21, I was woken by the sound of Heather loudly falling in our bathroom. When I checked on her, she had fallen sideways into the shower stall and was breathing in erratic grunts. Her eyes were open but would not focus on anything, and she was completely unresponsive as I called her name. We quickly called 911, and she was taken to an ER that’s fortunately very close to our home.

She regained some awareness during the ambulance ride – none of us could accompany her due to COVID-19 restrictions in our state. A CT scan found a small bleed on the left side of her brain, and when I was finally allowed to see her at the ER, she was suffering from expressive aphasia: when she tried to speak, the wrong words would come out, even when asked questions such as the current month and year.

While she luckily regained her speech over the next couple of hours, another CT soon found that she was suffering from a rare venous stroke: the flow of blood to her brain was not blocked, but a large number of clots were blocking the sinus veins that drain blood away from the brain. She was immediately airlifted to a hospital in downtown Orlando that specializes in neurosurgery.

Heather spent six hours undergoing a thrombectomy procedure that day to remove the clotting from her brain. Her neurosurgeon also told us there was evidence that she had suffered several previous small strokes. When she woke up after surgery, she was unable to feel her lower right leg. I was able to visit her in the hospital for only 11 hours a day due to coronavirus restrictions. While she appeared to be recovering on Monday, I received a call early Tuesday from her neurosurgeon. She had begun to experience symptoms again after being taken off blood thinners, and could not speak. She was taken in for another thrombectomy procedure to remove the clots.

I was able to see her after the procedure and she was once again able to talk. She spent most of that week in the neuro ICU and we were frequently visited by numerous neurologists, hematologists, critical care specialists, physical therapists and occupational therapists. As usual for those who spend time around her, everyone she met took a liking to her. But our children were terrified, her mother was terrified, I was terrified – and worst of all, so was Heather.

The team treating her concluded that she likely suffers from a clotting disorder that predisposes her to form these clots, and she will likely be on blood thinners for the long term, if not for life. She was also found to be suffering from atrial fibrillation, a form of irregular heartbeat, as well as severe anemia. Additionally, she was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

She now requires numerous medications, doctor visits, and tests to keep this entire constellation of serious medical conditions in check. She is very slowly regaining sensation in her right leg but her mobility is impaired and she now requires a walker. She is unable to work, and we are attempting to have her enrolled in Medicaid and disability. This has significantly impacted our household’s finances, as she brings in nearly all of our income; I’ve recently been admitted to the University of Central Florida after finishing my first two years at community college, where I’ll be pursuing a degree in statistics. I am currently continuing to seek remote work, as public-facing positions would have too much of a risk of me bringing coronavirus home to her – her clotting disorder, heart condition, and diabetes put her in several high-risk groups, and we cannot take the chance of her catching an infection that could easily kill her.

Heather has been unbelievably strong and has kept a confident and outgoing attitude throughout all of this, and our family has been doing our best to be strong for her as she begins her recovery. We are so, so very grateful that she is alive and that this didn’t end in an even worse outcome, and we want to do everything we can for her. That’s why we’re asking for your assistance in helping an incredible person bounce back from a brush with the unthinkable.

We do not know if or when Heather will be able to return to work, whether she will be accepted for Medicaid and disability covering her numerous expenses, whether I will be able to find a position to support us in the current economic crisis – or whether something like this will happen again. Our expenses include rent and utilities, as well as the accumulating hospital bills as she does not receive insurance through her job, prescriptions including the expensive blood thinners that will hopefully keep her from having another stroke, and doctor visits and tests which we are currently paying for out of pocket.

The goal we’ve set is what we hope will be sufficient to ensure we can get through the next several months, keeping our family in our home and making sure Heather receives the crucial care she needs to continue recovering. We all love her so much and I can’t imagine life without her – we always imagined growing old together. I want so badly for her to be able to live her best life. Please help Heather stay alive.

-Lauren McNamara


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Lauren McNamara 
Winter Springs, FL
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