I know what you're thinking. There is NO WAY this woman's brain exploded and she survived. Okay, well maybe not my WHOLE entire brain but a part of it really did explode. Okay, maybe explode is an over reaction but that is sure what it felt like. I was 16 when a brain aneurysm I didn't even know I had ruptured causing a severe hemorrhagic stroke. My brain was bleeding for hours before the doctors caught it. It is only a miracle that I am alive today to tell the story. Even now as I type this and look at this picture of me while I was unconscious, in an induced coma, I can't believe that's me. I can remember the pain like it was yesterday, I still have the scars, I have the medical documents, the fatigue and the VP shunt to prove it and the bragging rights to say "I have had three brain surgeries and I still look good!" but yet, still...It is hard for me to grasp the fact that I survived something that most people do not, is humbling to say the least.
I remember thinking I didn't have a story to tell, I prayed and asked God to give me a story that couldn't be debated or questioned. I wanted a story that destroyed my doubts and showed me the impossible doesn't really exist. Even though at that time I had already gone through much more than any 16 year old girl could handle. My mother died 3 years prior and I moved halfway across the country from Illinois to New Jersey (It was culture shock to say the least). I moved in with my oldest sister who got married when I was 2 years old, she was a stranger to me at the time. Looking back at my life I always had a story to tell. I just didn't see it. I knew my life had purpose but I needed something deeper, I needed an unshakable assurance that I was indeed, called, chosen, special and meant for more.
Brain Injuries are the most common injuries in the world and the most overlooked, they are often called the invisible injuries. There are people you walk past everyday who struggle with some kind of learning disability or physical deficit that comes from a brain injury. Their deficit could have been something they were born with or something that they have acquired throughout life. I am one of those people. I stand on stages in front of hundreds-thousands of people, far from invisible yet I struggle with an invisible injury everyday of my life. No matter how far I make it on this road of recovery, the steps I have taken to get to where I am today must never be forgotten, not by myself or by those who are around me. My scars are my battle wounds. I have fought long and hard to recover. I hope that by sharing my story I can encourage someone who struggles with a brain injury or learning disability, or even someone who doesn't struggle with those things to be empathetic to those who do.
Today is October 6th and I am turning 26! If you would have asked me ten years ago If I would be here telling the amazing story about how I survived a hemorrhagic stroke, lost my short term memory for about three years and how I recite poems that I memorize, while baffling medical professionals and rising above statistics, I would have told you that you were absolutely insane and I would think you were evil for wishing such a horrible experience on me (haha). Ten years later I am in awe of what my life has become. The road to recovery has been an extremely hard one that my faith in God has got me through. I remember thinking that if I had faith my life would be easier, in fact life seems to be the opposite when you have faith. Faith doesn't make life easier, it makes the impossible possible. I wouldn't trade my experience for anything. It has given me great courage and a boldness that cannot be tamed. I have learned that through what people may call tragedy, you can find the most beauty.
When I read the statistics about teenagers who have had a hemorrhagic stroke I am left speechless and often times in tears. There is a brain aneurysm rupturing every 18 minutes. Ruptured brain aneurysms are fatal in about 40% of cases. Of those who survive, about 66% suffer some permanent neurological deficit. Approximately 15% of patients with aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH) die before reaching the hospital. (Bafoundation.org). My subarachnoid hemorrhage was on the left side of my brain, ironically this is the side of the brain that is known for controlling language and speech. I am now a full time public speaker. As I have mentioned before, the road to get to where I am now has been an excruciating one.
For years I was alone. It wasn't just a feeling but I was literally alone in my struggle. I was surrounded by people telling me that my memory loss was just an excuse and that I should "walk in my healing" and move on. As good as we (as Christians) would like to think this sounds, when it comes to certain situations that could be one of the most hurtful things to say to someone. Especially someone who has survived something that was supposed to KILL THEM. I needed time to regroup. I needed time to heal. Here I was, not remembering what I wore the day before or where I put my purse, while people were side eyeing me and speaking to me with looks of unbelief. That was probably one of the hardest parts of my recovery, having people not even take the time to understand what I was going through. I was always Leah, but I was now a new Leah. A Leah who took a little longer to remember (If at all) things. This taught me that people really don't have patience with one another like we are told to have.
Dude, My brain really exploded.
When blood hits brain tissue it becomes toxic to the tissue it surrounds. My brain was bleeding for hours before they found out what was happening to me. I was in the hospital and I could hear everything that was going on around me but I couldn't move. Literally. I felt like someone replaced the blood in my body with cement or some extremely heavy material. I wanted to tell everyone I could hear them but I couldn't speak. I was trapped in my body. I will never forget how that felt. I never felt more helpless yet so at peace in all of my life. I remember saying over and over in my mind "God I trust you, God I trust you..." I felt an extremely hard pinch on the top of my left wrist and I fell unconscious again. I still have the scar from the the first of what would be MANY IV's put into my body and then I fell unconscious.
I woke up 4 days later after having a total of three different brain surgeries. I was 20 pounds lighter with large portions of my head shaved. I had no feeling in back of my head where my biggest scar is for years. I remember riding home from the hospital and I almost panicked when I realized I couldn't feel my head against the seat in the car. I was in the hospital from January 20th until February 20th. This was actually a very short time considering the fact that my stroke was very severe. Going back into the real world was a journey to say the least. I viewed everything through new eyes. When you taste of death, life isn't the same ever again.
I now view the world through very different eyes. There are days where this experience is very far from my mind. Then there are days where I sit there and feel my scars and wonder why God chose to keep me here. He easily could have let me slip away. I would be lying to you if I always was happy God kept me here. Life hasn't been sunshine and rainbows for me. There has been times where I fought with God and told him that I wish he would have let me slip through the cracks of death. I share this to show you that there is a purpose for our lives FAR BEYOND our desires, FAR BEYOND our brokenness and insecurities. It took this experience to change me as an individual in a way that cant fully be explained in just one blog post. I wouldn't have this passion, or desire to see lives changed like I do if I didn't experience such desperation. People always say be careful what you pray for because you may get it. I say... Pray for it. Don't be afraid. God won't let you die. What we count as loss God counts as gain. What others may look at as tragedy and disgust, God looks at as new beginnings and beauty. My hope is that my story could reach the world. That I could meet thousands of people who have gone through similar situations and just be a beacon of hope. Hope. That's it. That is all we need. Hope got me here. God carries me through. He loves you. He loves us.
Thank you so much for taking the time out to read a portion of my story.
Lets change the world.
If you would like me to come share my story you can book me here.
If you like what you read, share... comment.. Love you.
"Pain creates a beauty that NOTHING ELSE can create"