write notes and ask questions of her family and doctors. Megan’s husband and family remained with her in Danville around the clock, and that presence helped Megan remain calm and positive.
“It was amazing,” recalls her sister, Kristin. “Here she was, unable to breathe on her own, and she was spelling words that I can’t spell. It was incredible. “
“When I initially woke up and was intubated, I was angry,” relates Megan. “That first night I had to come to terms with what was occurring –I had gone from an independent adult and caregiver to being completely helpless. I think without being kept medically sedated, you would loose your mind. I would have been much more terrified if my family wasn’t there.”
After being taken off the ventilator and moved to a transition unit, Megan realized she had lost the body strength or balance to even sit up on her own. She was moved to Heinz Rehabilitation Center for nearly two months, working to regain balance, strength, and the ability to walk and talk before coming home.
“It was an extreme amount of work. The stroke hit areas of my brain in charge of vitals, balance and swallowing. When you feel that terrible it is so easy to say you can’t do it. But you have to push and thank God I pushed,” explains Megan.
Her mom, Janice, relates the way in which the experience of seeing her daughter that first day at Heinz hit home. “The first time I saw her in rehab, I started crying. I couldn’t verbalize how what I was seeing told me how far we were going to have to go. She was like a rag doll, but we tried to keep everything positive,” says Janice.
Megan’s husband had a similar reaction. “The first time my husband saw people trying to walk me, that image crushed him. He realized it was going to be much longer than anyone knew,” notes Megan.
Even after coming home from Heinz, Megan’s throat was paralyzed for nearly nine months afterward. Eventually, after doing their own research, Megan and her mom convinced a surgeon to do a Botox injection at the top of her esophagus. The experimental procedure worked, and the feeding tube was removed nearly a year after Megan’s collapse.
While Megan is just as uncertain as the doctors as to what caused the stroke, she points to the flipping motion of bringing the towel around her hair over the top of her head. She believes this caused trauma to the artery on her neck, and has been speaking up about neck safety ever since. She says that an artery dissection is a much more common cause of a stroke than a blood clot and can be caused by a number of everyday incidents that push pressure on the neck. Fortunately, Megan’s age and physical condition at the time of the stroke puts her at favorable odds to make a full recovery. But nothing is certain, and there are no solid estimates as to how long it will take.
“Brain recovery isn’t so black and white,” says Janice. “It isn’t like a broken bone where you can set it and know it will heal in a certain amount of time.”
A year later, Megan says that some days are better than others. She can walk and talk and spend time with her children, Graham, 3, and Harper, 1, and is hopeful to return to her teaching position at Fairview Elementary this coming fall. She still faces many challenges, however, including a set of paralyzed vocal chords, motion sensitivity, dizziness numbness and fatigue. Improvement now comes in steps, rather than a steady trajectory and is frustrating for someone so used to being in charge and on top of things.
“I would like to not feel unable to do certain things,” says Megan. “I believe it will get better. But I just want to be back to normal with no thought of it. “
Janice explains, “Brain recovering takes every ounce of energy you have. The worst thing about bad days is you feel like you are going backwards. There is no reason for it, no circumstance you can point to. She’s not going backwards and sometimes you have to remind her that there has been improvement; just keep looking on the bright side.”
The “bright side”. Where is the “bright side” in such a story? In Megan Mitchell’s case, it was in the overwhelming support she and her family received from the Mountaintop community. Megan, her sister, Kristin, and her mom, Janice all had words of extreme gratitude for the place we call home.
“We just want to thank everyone for the overwhelming support we received from fellow teachers, administrators, support staff, community members, local organizations, parents of past students, and local business owners,” remarks Megan. “We were and continue to be humbled by the way we were surrounded with love from the community.”
Megan adds that the Crestwood School District was kind and encouraging during her ordeal, and she received many cards, texts and letters from administrators, colleagues and student’s parents. Community members and faculty sent cooked meals, baby supplies, and words of encouragement. On the night Megan was transferred to Heinz to begin her rehabilitation, a fundraiser was held at King’s for which baskets and other items were donated from local businesses, community organizations and individuals. Megan and her family said these actions left them in awe.
“Nobody ever expects to have this experience,” says Megan. “You would never know how supportive people can be when something like this happens: We got to see the true character of some people.”
“They say we live in the ‘Valley with a Heart’. The Mountaintop community really is that and more. It has been completely humbling,” says Janice.
Megan says that she doesn’t know if she would have been able to keep the same positive attitude without all that support, love and encouragement.
For now, Megan’s in-laws, Pat and Toni Mitchell, have continued to step in to care for the children and other household necessities as they did while Megan was in Danville.
“She’s been a mainstay here every day” Megan says of her mother-in-law. “It would have been very easy to fall back without all of this support. “
Nobody really knows how far Megan’s recovery will be or how long it will take, but she and her family are optimistic. Megan is looking forward to going back to work, explaining, “Teaching is a huge part of my life and I want to get back as quickly as I can. I want to be the sole caregiver of my children and would like to help other people who go through this horrible experience.”
Megan continues to work hard in her recovery and also has become a source of encouragement and strength for other stroke victims. She wrote a blog called “Stroke at 30” and was part of the American Stroke Association’s “Stroke Hero” Campaign.
“I would never be where I am without all the support I was given. It distracted me from the horrors and I have thought a lot about the fact that many people don’t have that kind of support. I want to be a help to others in similar situations, make a big difference to them,” concludes Megan.
“Stroke at 30” can be found at this link: http://strokeatthirty.blogspot.com/?m=1 Her sister has created a Facebook page to display all the photos from the benefit and thank community members for their support: https://www.facebook.com/MeganMitchellBenefit