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August 2017 Paula Sparks

August 1, 2017


Paula Sparks August 2017

August 29, 2016, was my "rebirth-day." It was the end of an old decade and the beginning of a new one. I have moved on—not as the old person I used to be, not rid of all that had occurred in the past 10 years, but as a new person living a new reality. Living with what I do and don’t have now that I had back then.


On August 19, 2006, I was a 53-year-old wife, mother of three, and grandmother of one, hosting the wedding of our daughter at home in my husband’s beautiful gardens. The day before had been my husband David and my 33rd anniversary. I was also a Program Specialist for Girl Scouts, running in-school, after-school and summer programs for girls living in public housing in Portland. It was a beautiful, fun day, one I will always remember. Little did I know that my life was in for a very big change.

Ten days later, on August 29, I received a call from my primary care doctor, telling me to go immediately to the emergency room. I had been having headaches, and after ruling out migraines, blood tests had been taken. My doctor had received the results of the blood work done the week before and believed I had meningitis.

Aside from the headaches, I had been experiencing a slight limp and the sensation that I was drooling on my left side, along with a dripping sound in my right ear for a few months, but had put it all off to being busy getting ready for the wedding.

When I arrived at the ER with a friend, a room was waiting for me. As I waited to see the Dr, I suddenly became violently ill and found myself leaning to one side. From then on, things became very confusing. I was admitted, and while in the bathroom suffered a seizure and collapsed. I remember the seizure beginning, barely remember being transferred to another hospital two days later, and have little to no memories of the next two weeks. I do know this…I was very sick. I had suffered a stroke as the result of a Venous Sinus Thrombosis—a very unusual type of stroke caused by a genetic clotting disorder (unknown to me) that was exacerbated by being on birth control and taking Celebrex.

The swelling in my head was threatening to kill me, and my family and friends were called in to say goodbye. Thankfully for me, I was totally unaware of all this. My left side was paralyzed. I had difficulty speaking (which later was discovered had been caused by my biting through my tongue during the seizure). Miraculously, I had a wonderful neurologist who somehow brought me through all of this, and I slowly began to heal.

After three weeks in the hospital, I was released for two more weeks of therapy at New England Rehabilitation Hospital, where I learned how to walk and care for myself with my left-sided weakness. I walked out of there with a cane, after going in on a stretcher. Another miracle.

Four months after my stroke, I returned to work. Aside from still using the cane and being tired, I thought I had recovered. With a lot of help, and because of the nature of my work, I was able to manage. For a while. My father had suffered a stroke at the age of 48, had aphasia, wore a leg brace, walked with a cane, and had no use of his right hand, so I thought I "knew" stroke. I could walk and talk, and had only slight residual left-sided weakness, so I thought all was well. But there were so many things I didn’t know about stroke.

I didn’t know about short-term memory loss, fatigue, sensitivities to sound, light, and smell, sensory overload, and so much more. I didn’t really "get" that I had a brain injury. A year and a half after my stroke, I suffered a panic attack, and realized that something still wasn’t "right." I couldn’t keep up my work and had to leave work. Then I realized that no matter how good my doctors were, they didn’t have all the answers, and I began the search for a Brain Injury Support group. I was lucky, and found one close by.

That support group changed my life. I learned strategies for dealing with challenges I didn’t even know I had. Although I can no longer work, I have returned to being able to do most of the things I love—sewing, crafting, decorating our home, being with my grandkids (3 now!), taking classes to learn new skills, shopping and hosting parties for friends and family, and traveling, both alone and with others. I have taken up doing art in ways I never imagined, attend concerts (yes—with ear plugs!) and attend the theater, and have been turned on to genealogy research.

Today, I am a member of Brain Injury Voices, a group of BI survivors who educate, advocate, and support those with or working with BI. I assist with and sometimes teach art classes for others with BI. I speak at workshops and conferences, to survivors, support members, and professionals. And, my absolute favorite—I plan for and facilitate the BI support group “WINGS” meetings, complete with hands on activities and door prizes!

I have been truly blessed. I have friends and family who have stood by me, and now my circle of friends is larger with the addition of my BI friends. I would never have met any of these people if it hadn’t been for my stroke, and I am pleased every day to be able to say I know them. I have put behind me what I used to be, and am living a "re-purposed" life, and for the most part, loving it!