Posted: October 25, 2018
A portrait of Jennifer Sutherland and her daughter Marina.

Jennifer Sutherland used to think a stroke would happen to someone else. She learned otherwise while 29 weeks pregnant.

Jennifer and her husband were out for a walk when sudden dizziness struck her followed by trouble speaking. They quickly realized something was awry and first sought care at Grand River Hospital.

While she thought her symptoms were related to her pregnancy, testing quickly confirmed a stroke and set in motion a system of care to help treat her and protect her unborn child.

Jennifer is doing fine now, and enjoying spending plenty of time with her daughter Marina. She’s also warning people to know the FAST test for stroke symptoms:

  • Face: is it drooping? 
  • Arms: can you raise both? 
  • Speech: is it slurred or jumbled? 
  • Time to call 9-1-1 right away.

Prior to your stroke, what was you impression of the disease? Did you think it could happen to you?

I hadn’t really given it much thought to be honest. It was something that could happen to elderly people, like my grandfather. I knew what the signs and symptoms were, of course, but that was for if it happened to someone else. I never would have thought it could happen to me.  

What happened during your stroke?

I was walking home with my husband when I suddenly felt dizzy. At 29 weeks pregnant, I figured that this was another side effect of pregnancy and we found a bench where I could sit and rest for a minute.

It wasn’t until I tried to speak that I realized something was wrong. My speech was “funny”. Not slurred, but slow and I had trouble finding and forming words. By the time we made it home, I was growing more confused and having trouble with simple tasks, like using my cell phone. It was at this point that we decided to go to the hospital.

I still thought that what was happening was pregnancy related and we took a taxi to the GRH maternity ward. Upon arrival, my face had started to droop and the nurses rushed me downstairs to emergency. This had all taken place within a half an hour.

In emergency, they performed a CAT scan and determined that I was having a stroke. I could no longer speak or write and we had to decide whether I wanted to go through surgery, let the stroke play out, or have them administer a tPA (a clot-busting drug)… the main concerns being not only my health, but the health of my baby. We had been in emergency for three-and-a-half hours and we didn’t have a lot of time to decide as the tPA needs to be administered within a specific time frame.

I decided to go ahead with the tPA and the doctors transferred us by ambulance to Hamilton where a team was ready in case they needed to deliver the baby prematurely.

What happened next?

The majority of my care was in Hamilton. I spent five days in ICU where they monitored my baby while performing tests to try and figure out the cause of the stroke. My husband and I couldn’t believe the amazing standard of care that I received while in hospital.

I met with various specialists and everyone made sure that we understood what they were doing and why it was necessary. I will be forever grateful to the nurses and doctors charged with my care.

How do you feel today?

I feel great!  I was very lucky. You wouldn’t know I had had a stroke unless I told you. I pretty much had a full recovery, with the only side effects being a slight stutter in my speech when I get tired and I have a little trouble with my writing, but it is getting better with practise.

I carried my baby to term and she is a very happy and healthy little girl!  

What message or advice would you like to send since you had a stroke?

I guess I would like people to know that this disease doesn’t discriminate.

I was and still am a healthy 39 year old. There was no underlying cause as to why I suffered a stroke and it can happen again. It can happen to anyone.

Stroke symptoms? Think FAST

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