If you’ve ever tried to get out the door with multiple children to go to a play date — or anywhere for that matter — then you know that your brain can feel like it’s working overtime and on the brink of malfunctioning. Unfortunately for Kristin Bedinghaus, that figurative feeling became a near fatal reality when the Florida mom suffered a stroke while home alone with her two sets of twins, just 8 weeks and 2 years old at the time.
That mind-boggling day began with typical parenting chaos — bottles, breakfast, diaper bag replenishing, dressing kiddos, and dinner prep. Kristin rushed to grab one last thing before heading out, and suddenly felt severe numbness. “I felt a sensation pulling my body down to the left and I couldn’t pull it back up. I had no control,” she describes. Kristin felt confused and reached for the stair rail before losing consciousness.
“I got sick when I awoke, and I couldn’t get up or speak and everything was blurry. I could only make out the silhouette of my oldest twins.” Fortunately, she had her cell phone in her pocket and hit redial. Kristin slurred nonsensical mumbles to her husband Elliott, who then called for help. Kristin was whisked away by ambulance in front of her four babies, just as her mother arrived to care for them.
Hospital physicians discovered the healthy 31-year-old suffered a stroke. A stroke occurs when a blood vessel feeding the brain bursts or clogs. Neither that part of the brain, nor the part of the body it controls can then function properly. Stroke is the fifth cause of death and a leading cause of disability in the United States, according to the American Stroke Association.
“I lived a healthy life and, so in my mind, I thought that only people who were overweight, had a family history or had issues with cholesterol and blood pressure could have a stroke. I didn’t know that anyone ─ even those without typical risk factors ─ could have one,” says Kristin.
Her stroke was originally called cryptogenic, meaning no definitive cause; however, doctors later discovered and treated two conditions that likely contributed to the stroke: patent foramen ovale (PFO), a hole in her heart, and pregnancy-induced anemia.
Kristin’s stroke caused partial paralysis in her left leg and impaired the fine motor abilities of her left hand. She had to learn to walk again, ironically as her babies were learning, too. With strong family support and faith, Kristin’s positivity pushed forward with her new accessories: a cane and leg brace.
She says, “My husband and I live by the quote ‘Life is a beautiful struggle.’” Now five years into recovery with continued rehabilitation, the couple has used Kristin’s limp as a teaching opportunity for their children to learn about and celebrate people’s differences. “My husband really stepped up for our family and that’s also shown our kids how much we love each other and work together as teammates,” she adds. The family will soon be tested again, as Kristin prepares for hip replacement, an injury stemming from her impaired gait.
Up to 80 percent of strokes could be prevented through lifestyle change and knowledge of risk and warning signs, however, stroke can happen to anyone including children and babies in utero. Women are twice as likely to develop a stroke than breast cancer.
May is Stroke Awareness Month, and Kristin is encouraging other moms to remember the most common stroke symptoms by learning the acronym F.A.S.T., which stands for:
- Facial Droop: Does one side of the face droop or feel numb? Ask person to smile and note if smile is uneven or lopsided?
- Arm Weakness: Are limbs weak or numb? Ask person to raise both arms; does one arm drift downward?
- Speech Difficulty: Has communication, such as speech and/or understanding, become difficult? Ask person to recite a simple sentence without slurring.
- Time: If you recognize warning signs in yourself or another, call 9-1-1 immediately and note the onset time of symptoms.
Kristin says she is lucky to live a “new normal” and considers her disability to be a badge of honor. She is a working professional, dedicated mother of two sets of twins, and a stroke survivor and advocate. Whether she has an official badge (or superhero cape!), Kristin is a life-saving superwoman.