Late last summer, my husband received a horrible phone call from his father: His cousin Jaime had a stroke. She was 25 years old.
It was an otherwise normal August evening, and Jaime was at her new apartment, waiting for her family to pick her up for her sister’s 21st birthday dinner. As she was getting ready, she developed a headache, and the next thing she knew, she had collapsed and was unable to move. Her roommates were out, and she was alone, listening to the sound of the doorbell and phone ring — her family trying to get in. Luckily, her landlord happened to be nearby and unlocked the door to her apartment, where her sister and mom found Jaime lying on her bedroom floor.
By the time Kyle and I reached the hospital, Jaime was undergoing surgery — the first of three brain surgeries — to decrease the swelling of her brain. Her doctors said she had suffered a break in her carotid artery (we all have one carotid artery on each side of our neck; its role is to bring blood to the brain and face). Besides the headache, she had no other symptoms or risk factors — her very serious stroke was simply a horrible accident, a misfortune caused by the complicated inner-workings of the body that we don’t always understand.
Her doctors were cautious in their communication to the family, and at one point, all looked grim. After her second surgery, her doctor predicted a very slim chance of survival, and we all started to face the very real possibility that Jaime would die. It was hard to wrap my mind around. She was healthy and vibrant, and so young. It just didn’t make any sense.
Jaime had recently returned to Minnesota after working for three years in New Orleans in the PGA Gulf State Section. A golfer most of her life, she played her way to state tournaments with Park High School. Now that she was living closer to home, I imagined many games in her future with her younger brother, Beau, an avid golfer, and her father, Bruce, a golf professional at River Oaks Golf Course. I kept expecting her to wake up in the hospital bed and make a joke about us lingering in her room. Then, after a good laugh, she’d walk out with us and we’d grab dinner. I felt angry that we weren’t getting more optimistic news. Her youth was meant to be filled with nights out with girlfriends, spa days with the cousins, trips to the Opdahl cabin, and dates with cute boys.
I felt my heart breaking as we all sat in silence in the waiting room.
Perhaps it was our collective grief, perhaps it was our will to cling to hope and prayer, knowing Jaime’s tenacity could make miracles happen, but something shifted that afternoon.
Quite remarkably, Jaime began to improve. The swelling started to subside and relief started to creep into the waiting room. Our spirits rose, and Jaime became responsive, squeezing her mom’s hand when asked.
Jaime’s spent the next two weeks at United Hospital in St. Paul, a health-care system with an integrative and advanced stroke-care program. From there, she went to Bethesda for their Brain Injury program and to Courage Center for in-patient physical therapy. Over these past few months, she’s had feeling return to her right side, which was previously paralyzed from the stroke. She could sit up without help. She went from a wheelchair to walking with a cane to walking out of Courage Center on her own two feet with no help.
When I think back to those dark moments in United’s waiting room with the family, I can’t help but be overcome by amazement at Jaime’s tremendous determination, her formidable strength and her incredible resilience.
She inspires me every day to be thankful for the power and wonder of our bodies, to always try my best, and to never give up. She proved to me that one’s will and love of life, along with hard work, can make magic happen.
The next step of Jaime’s journey involves an innovative program at Courage Center from the Christopher Reeves Foundation. The treatment isn’t covered by insurance, so her family and friends have organized a fundraiser (and a celebration of her progress!) from 4 to 9 p.m. on Saturday night at River Oaks Golf Club. If you’re in the Twin Cities, feel free to stop by and meet this amazing young woman. You can also hear more about Jaime’s story Friday on the 5 and 6 p.m. WCCO news (I’ll post the video when it’s available for my blog readers outside the Twin Cities), and follow her story on her Caring Bridge.