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.
It has been a long time since I sent an update. I write tonight because It has been a year since Ashley’s stroke. It was an emotional weekend as I recalled all the feelings and emotions from a year ago. It has been a long year, filled with all kinds of struggles, but she and the Wallace family have emerged on the other side, feeling blessed and loved. That is, in large part, thanks to you all!! Your support and well wishes have helped them more than they will ever be able to express.
Art shared an update this weekend on Facebook that describes how Ashley has been doing. I have shared it below for you all.
I hope this update finds you well. Again, thank you so much and I wish you all a happy and healthy 2018!
“Yesterday was the one year anniversary of when Ashley had her stroke. I spent a lot of time yesterday and most of this past week thinking about the events of that day as well as everything that has happened to bring us to where we are today. We are grateful. We are blessed. We are still a little scared. We are strong. We have hope. We are loved!
It has been a while since I have given an update on Ashley’s progress. Physically she is doing very well, but her speech is still a struggle and will be for quite some time. The stroke caused her to have two disorders that affected her speech. One is apraxia which is the ability to make the necessary sounds and the other is aphasia which is essentially know what to say. As far as the apraxia is concerned, she is able to make most of the sounds needed for speech although there are a few consonants that she still struggle. The aphasia is still the biggest stumbling block. There has been progress, but it has been very slow. We believe that this will all come back to her, but it will take a long time to fully recover. Fortunately this is the one area where there is no time limit to her healing.
We have had a couple of very scary moments that have caused us to make some unexpected trips to the ER. The first was an infection that was found near the scar/incision from the craniotomy. Infection was the biggest concern form that surgery and we watched that very closely at the beginning. If the infection was deep and near the bone flap replacement, she would have been rushed to surgery and we would have started all over. They would have removed the artificial bone flap. Ashley would have to wear the helmet again for 6 months. Even with all of the beautiful stickers that the kids put on it, that was something that she hoped she would never have to wear again. Then she would have another surgery to get another artificial bone flap put in. Fortunately the infection stayed on the surface. They were able to drain some of it and gave Ashley some heavy antibiotics. We have met every two weeks since then with our Neuro Surgeon and so far everything looks good.
The last scary moment was just a couple of weeks ago. Ashley was having severe chest pains while she was out with her mom and they went directly to the ER. They did an EKG and her heart looked great. The rans some x-rays which came back negative. They also ran a CT scan from the waste up and everything looked good. We were eventually sent home with no real answers other than physically she was just fine and that we need to continue to monitor that. We have had no issues since.
As we move forward, there are still some things that we have to get addressed. We have another appointment with her Neuro Ophthalmologist. We still need to get the cataracts fixed in her right eye, and we are still monitoring the blind spots to make sure that there is no change/deterioration with her sight. We also need to meet with her Cardiologist to get a final check on her surgery for closing up the PFO in her heart. The EKG form the ER gives me great hope that this appointment will go well and that Ashley will be able to stop taking the blood thinners that she has been on. One more medicine down! Speech is the last and biggest thing to work on. With that is also monitoring Ashley’s mood. I can’t imagine what she is going through with not having the full ability to express herself or read books with our kids. Some days are very hard. Together, and with a lot of love and support from our family and friends we will get through each day and continue to grow and heal.
We are not where we were a year ago before all of this happened. We are no where we want to be. All of this can be very difficult if that is what we focus on. The positive part is that we are further along that I thought we would be right now than what I was thinking in the hospital a year ago.
I am blessed to be married to an amazing woman who has taught me so much through all of this. She is a fighter. She has a beautiful smile (which I knew before) that gives me strength that I did not know that I had. Most of all she is here with me. I couldn’t do this without her. I have had a lot of friends and family lose loved ones over this past year, but she is still with me. Together we can do anything.
We are blessed to have 4 beautiful (they get that from their moms) children who are stronger than I ever imagined they would be at such a young age. They have been through so much and they have done so well. There are rough days, but as a whole they are mazing and I love them.
We are surrounded by people who love us. We could not get through this by ourselves. Our family, our friends, and our church have all been there. It is amazing how almost every time I am having a rough day, someone is there with a text or a phone call or a simple hug with no words spoken to help me get through the day. They are countless and help me get through.
Every day is a beautiful day. My mom made t-shirts at Thanksgiving and passed them out to our family. It is something that I say every time she asks me how I’m doing. They aren’t all perfect and they rarely go as planned. Every day that I wake and have Ashley still with me and 4 beautiful children and the love and support from my family and friends is a beautiful day. I believe that and it gives me strength and hope.
It was very fitting that yesterday was such a beautiful morning. I got up and watched the sun rise. It was beautiful. I have listened to Kurt Elling sing “I like the sunrise” almost every day since this has happened. On my first trip home from the hospital, I turned on Pandora and this was the song that played. It puts a smile on my face and sometimes brings great tears of joy. I like the sunrise and the hope that each new day brings.
We are grateful. We are blessed. We are still a little scared. We are strong. We have hope. We are loved! Thank you for your love and support!”
It has been a long time since I updated you all. The lack of updates is not due to a lack of activities or events. It has been a busy summer. Ashley had the hole in her heart repaired, the filter removed from her vein, testing to check for a clotting disorder completed, her eyes checked and she pared down her list of medications. She was discharged from physical therapy at the beginning of the summer. Then she did some speech and occupational therapy in the community, including some trips with her therapists and the kids and Alexis to Frederik Meijer Gardens. Her walking is amazing, in fact, her chronic knee pain is her biggest limitation to walking. Her right hand continues to grow stronger and she is using it more. Her speech continues to be the biggest challenge, but she has a few phrases she can say now, including “I love you,” and “How are you?” She is also pretty good at the very important word, “money.” ☺ Last week was her last appointment with Mary Free Bed for now. This feels a little disheartening, but my amazing, brilliant mom, who studied speech therapy in college, has started working with Ashley once a week. She is working on vowel and consonant sounds with Ashley for an hour and half and has seen progress. This week Ashley worked on trying to make the “K” sound (selfishly, this is a important sound to me) and she worked on smoothing out “Sophia” and “Savannah.” Also, her sister mentioned that they used to commonly sing “Jingle Bells” as kids, and, Ashley proceeded to sing it! After they work for an hour and a half, they do a project with the kids such as make slime, make pinecone bird feeders and do experiments with Dove soap. My mom calls me on her hour drive back home and tells me how amazed she is at Ashley’s determination and hard work. She loves spending this time with Ashley and the kids, and I and the Wallace family are so thankful for her knowledge, enthusiasm, patience and giving spirit.
Ashley’s rehabilitation is not the only thing that has happened this summer. Ashley was home with the kids during the day since they were out of school. Any mother knows what that is like. But, the time home with them, was certainly not taken for granted. She loved every minute. Savannah was there a lot, and aside from being a sweet, smart, athletic girl/young woman she is a huge help with the kids. Of course, family and friends stopped by often and picked them up to get them out of the house, since Ashley isn’t driving. The kids also attended opera camp with a phenomenal show as the culmination. I was able to visit around the 4th of July and had a wonderful time.
Now, I write to update you all today, because today is Ashley’s 33rd birthday. Seven months ago, I didn’t know if she would be here to celebrate her birthday. Since the day of her stroke she has celebrated three of her kids birthday’s, Art’s birthday, Mother’s day, and now her birthday. As I said in my very first post, she is the most beautiful soul I have ever met. Her face and eyes express more kindness, humor, love and empathy than I will ever be able to express with full access to written and spoken word. In addition or all of her attributes, she has now proven to be the most courageous woman I know. I marveled at her bravery one day when we went out with the kids and she ran in to an old acquaintance. She was not fearful at all, she stood there with the most genuine smile at seeing an old friend, despite her shaved head, healing 12 inch scar, and inability to talk.
I woke up at 4AM today unable to sleep due to my excitement. This is the 20th Birthday I have celebrated with Zent. I had planned to be there, the one off-key voice among the chorus of beautiful Wallace/Zentmeyer voices, singing “Happy Birthday,” as she blows out the candles on her mom’s famous double chocolate cake. Unfortunately, I couldn’t be away from work right now, but my mind and heart will be there all day. What a day!!!
I hope you all will share in the celebration today, wherever you are. Your love, prayers, support and financial contributions have made a huge impact on the Wallace family. They have made her rehabilitation, transition home and transition back to being “mom” so much easier. So today is a celebration for all of us!
Art has more on his plate that I can ever imagine and yet he wakes up with gratitude for each day. Lets follow his lead. Celebrate today by enjoying your friends, your family, and all things great and small.
Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.
Happy Birthday, Ashley (Zent) Wallace!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I hope you all had a good weekend and Mother's Day for all the moms out there. Ashley was home for Mother's Day! She was released from the hospital Saturday afternoon. The surgery went well and the plate, made of a carbon based material is held in place with 6 titanium screws. Her recovery is plagued by fatigue, minimal appetite and some pain, but overall, it is going smoothly. Hopefully her energy will return this week as her family is planning to take a road trip to Art's nephew's wedding. Noah and Sophia are in the wedding and are going to be so cute!
Thank you all for your positive thoughts and prayers for her and her family last week. Replacement of her bone flap is one more step in the direction of recovery and one more hurdle she can put behind her. She and her family are nothing short of amazing!
Again, thank you all and have a good week!
I wanted to share a post that Art put on Facebook last week in case you all didn't see it or are not on Facebook. A video of Ashley saying/singing "I Love You" was attached to the post. I will share the video on my Facebook page as well. It is beautiful.
Ashley has surgery tomorrow, so please keep her in your thoughts. Thank you, all, so much!!!
Art's Update from May 4:
It has been 15 weeks since Ashley had her stroke. It doesn't seem that long ago, but so many things have happened for which I am thankful for. She has come so far and has worked so hard! I couldn't be more proud of her and I admire her strength. The support and love from our family and friends continues to amaze me and we are lucky and blessed to be surrounded by so many wonderful people.
The video that I posted was taken during one of her speech therapy sessions at MFB. Her therapist is working on a more melodic approach to her therapy and it is helping! I have watched this video every day and it still brings a tear to my eye and puts a smile on my face! In one of my previous posts I mentioned that I couldn't remember the last time I heard her say I love you and that I would definitely remember the next time. This is the next time and although I was not in the room, I will never forget it!
The surgery to replace her bone flap is scheduled for May 11. Ashley will be in the hospital a couple of days. This will be a big step in her recovery. Once that is complete, we will work towards fixing the PFO (hole in her heart). Please continue to keep Ashley and our family in your prayers. We have come so far, but there is still a long road ahead. We will continue to travel down that road one day at a time. Grateful for each step that we take. Proud of every accomplishment no matter how big or small. Hopeful for each new day. Yeah! Yeah!
Happy to hear about all of your friend's improvements. Thoughts and prayers are with her and her family !
So glad she is at Mary Free Bed. With all the prayers and support and now MFB in the mix, she will succeed. I was there following knee replacement surgery and can attest to their care. But more importantly, one of my best friends was there following a crash that left her comatose. She is also highly creative and was told she would never walk, talk, breathe on her own, write. She has published three books of poetry and walked in to to MFB for a victory public reading. You will get through this Ashley and Art. Blessings to you and your family.
Hey Haley, No one has set one up. However, no one has been home to eat them. Art was at the hospital for nearly two weeks straight while family cared for the children. As they resume some kind of schedule it may be helpful. Thanks for thinking of them! Kelsey
Has a bring a meal account been set up for them?