Two weeks ago I was talking on the phone with my best friend of 20 years, Ashley Zentmeyer-Wallace, about new recipes we wanted to try, the last episode of “This Is Us,” and what science experiments she found to do with her ever-curious son. Today, I am sitting next to her bed holding her hand in the Neuro intensive care unit at Spectrum Butterworth Hospital. She is here because, at 32 years old, she suffered a massive stroke.
Ashley is the most beautiful soul I have ever met. Starting at the age of 13 she taught me to feel deeper, laugh harder, and love more freely. She is the “yin” to my “yang” and has made me a better person. Other people got a glimpse of her beautiful soul through her voice. She has a beautiful voice and was singing in the Grand Rapids Opera when she met the love of her life, Art. She married Art and became the step-mother of a wonderful girl, Savannah (12). She and Art then had three beautiful children, Noah (6), Sophia (4) and Amelia (2).
On the morning of January 20th she dropped Noah off at the bus stop and around 10 to 20 minutes later a neighbor heard her two daughters crying in the front yard. The neighbor went over to see what was going on and found Ashley unresponsive on the ground. She was rushed to the hospital where she was found to have a large clot blocking two major arteries on the left side of her brain. Over the next few days she fought for her life while she had a procedure to remove the clot and surgery to have parts of her skull removed twice . Her husband is amazing and has been very realistic about her situation and still very positive. He has handled everything thrown at him amazingly well, with complete composure and grace.
How does this happen? Was this the result of a knee surgery she had, was the result of a congenital hole in her heart, was this the result of a undetected clotting disease? They don’t know. What they do know, is that she is a miracle. Had this happened minutes before she likely would have been driving with her two daughters in the car. Had this happened minutes later she might have been indoors and no one would have found her for hours. In less than 2 weeks she has had 5 surgeries, more CT scans than I even know, two echos and wonderful, around-the-clock care in the ICU from doctors, nurses PA-s, and PCNs. She has been surrounded by loving family and friends (parents, in-laws, 5 siblings, fellow musicians, her pastor and many more). It has paid off because she is no longer on a ventilator (breathing machine), she is very alert and is giving me all her same old expressions with her beautiful eyes. She will struggle with some paralysis of her right side and she is not able to talk yet, but she will be discharged from the hospital to Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, once all her tests are done, where we know she will work on these skills with the fire and determination she has. They say her ability to speak multiple languages and sing indicate a very strong linguistic center and put her in a great place to recover her speech.
I, despite being a Physician Assistant working with critically ill patients, am completely helpless. I want desperately to make things better, to fix this. She is the creative one and I am the doer. So being so helpless is killing me. I am sure you all feel the same way. One thing we can do to help the Wallace family is to ease some of financial stressors that will come with the medical care, the cost of day care, and home modifications for Ashley’s future needs. Art is a numbers guy, he does Math all day at work. There is no way when the bills start coming due that he won’t be stressed. Ashley had transitioned to being a stay-at-home mom a little over a year ago and loved it but she always worried about not being able to financially contribute to their home. If we can alleviate some of Art’s stress and Ashley’s guilt so they can focus 100% on her recovery, that would be great. So, if you feel helpless or are touched by her story, or sadly relate to it (I pray you don’t), please donate. Even if you only have $5 to contribute, that is wonderful!!!!! Every penny counts, just like every minute she will get to hold her children counts.
Also, if you have a story of hope or tragedy you endured, please feel free to share them. It is clear that the only way to get through this and through life is by helping each other.