- Jayme Kelly, a nurse, thought she'd slept on her limbs wrong when she woke up numb at age 29.
- Kelly had had a stroke, and has spent the last couple years in different types of rehab.
- She's raising awareness of stroke signs and symptoms as an American Heart Association volunteer.
Jayme Kelly thought she could sleep it off.
The then-29-year-old nurse living near Boston had woken up numb in her right arm and leg, unable to walk to the bathroom or unlock her phone.
But she figured she'd just slept on her limbs wrong and everything would be back to normal after a little more rest. After all, Kelly was young, ate healthy, and did Crossfit regularly.
But when Kelly's roommate found her a few hours later unable to speak, the roommate called 911. "Now I'm freaking out, like, what's wrong with me?"
Kelly later learned she'd had a stroke, and she's spent the last couple years out of work and in rehab.
Now a volunteer for the American Heart Association's Go Red For Women "Real Women" campaign, Kelly is speaking out to raise awareness that stroke can happen to anyone — and that time is of the essence when it comes to getting help. "Time lost is brain lost," she told Insider.
Kelly discovered she had a blood clotting disorder
Kelly immediately underwent an MRI at the hospital. Hearing the word "stroke" was surreal.
"I had every emotion running through my mind at the same time — scared, sad, anxious, angry, like, 'Why me?'" she said. "It's hard to come to terms with: I had a stroke."
Testing revealed Kelly had factor V Leiden, a blood disorder that increases the risk of blood clots. She was also on hormonal birth control, which too increases blood clot and stroke risk.
The stroke caused weakness on her right side and numbness in her right hand, as well as trouble speaking, writing, and understanding language, Kelly said. She improved steadily with therapy, but couldn't say more than a handful of phrases for six months.
Kelly says she otherwise relied on body language and some sign language, which her sister taught her, to communicate. Her one outlet was CrossFit, which emphasizes the types of big functional movements — not small motor skills — she could still perform.
"It gave me a release," Kelly said. "I was really critical of myself that I can't speak well, but I pushed everything down because I didn't want everyone to know how depressed I was."
Kelly's emotional recovery has been the hardest
Now, two and a half years later, Kelly takes blood thinners and continues to undergo speech therapy, occupational therapy, and music therapy. She joined a book club to improve her reading skills. Her work in psychotherapy, including EMDR, which helps process traumatic memories, has been most impactful, she said.
"The more I talked about it, the better I felt," Kelly said. "It's OK to cry, it's OK to be sad and anxious, but you need to talk about it."
Kelly hasn't been able to return to her job at Boston Children's Hospital, but she did take up an independent nurse role for a 4-year-old with cerebral palsy. "I'm getting better every day," she said.
Knowing the signs in yourself and others
According to the American Heart Association, 1 in 5 women has a stroke in her lifetime.
Smoking, pregnancy, pre-eclampsia, birth-control pills, and migraines with aura can increase the risk. (Kelly stopped her birth control but can safely go on another type that doesn't have estrogen, her doctor told her.)
Kelly wants people, and especially women, to know the signs of stroke, like numbness, confusion, blurred vision, and poor coordination.
"I think women only focus on other people their kids, their parents, their husbands, their friends," she said. "Sometimes we need to focus on ourselves more and then we can focus on everyone else. And if I can have a stroke, so can all of you."