Life for Melissa Hansen of New London is a bit different today than just a year ago. A year ago, a brain bleed stroke stole so much of her life.
Melissa said she was super busy getting ready for her daughter Ashley’s graduation, didn’t feel good but thought it was all stress. The day after the graduation party and commencement she still wasn’t feeling good so she drove herself into urgent care in Willmar. She was given some cough medicine to suppress her cough.
The next day she still wasn’t feeling good and had a nasty headache in the back of her head at the base of her neck. She went to her room and tried to lay down for a little bit. She tried getting up but her whole right side was paralyzed, and she fell out of the bed to the floor, vomiting everywhere.
She yelled for help, and Bradyn (her son), who was downstairs and the only other person in the house, heard her holler.
“He came running upstairs, found me laying by my bed. I couldn’t get up, so he called Tim and he zoomed home, called the ambulance and I was rushed into Willmar.”
Melissa was asked to sing the national anthem at a St. Cloud Rox baseball team game for Stroke Survivor Awareness Week. She wore her stroke survivor shirt that reads, “My own brain tried to kill me. What makes you think you can hurt me?” Contributed photo
The doctors determined she was having a brain bleed and called the St. Cloud Hospital.
“The next thing I knew they had the helicopter there and airlifted me to St. Cloud.”
That evening a doctor performed Melissa’s first surgery. A tube was inserted to drain the fluids (something your body usually does naturally) from her brain. This was done to relieve the pressure so a craniectomy did not have to be performed. Her head had to be still and perfectly level with the machine. The tube was in her head for 17 days. It had to be removed and work on its own or a shunt tube would be placed from her brain to her spinal column.
“The prayers worked, ” she said.
They kept Melissa in ICU for two more days to keep an eye on her. On day 19 she was out of the ICU.
Her second surgery was known as “The Apollo,” which was performed by another doctor. Tools were brought in for the procedure, tools that are so expensive the Mayo Clinic cannot afford them. The surgery was to remove as much dead blood as possible from where the stroke occurred. Sixty-five percent was removed.
Once they let Melissa out of the regular part of the hospital she spent a week in rehabilitation.
“They wanted me to stay longer, but I could do everything they asked, and I made sure I kept that determination going. I wanted to get the hell out of there and get home to my family and see the outside again.” Tim stayed every night, she said, and if he couldn’t be there, he made sure somebody was there because she didn’t want to be left alone.
Melissa’s occupational therapy was to fry an egg and make some toast and do the dishes because she wasn’t able to do any of that stuff, let alone walk or shower.
“I had to relearn how to walk, how to use my right hand and brush my teeth. I couldn’t even take a shower. I couldn’t raise my hands up to wash my hair or do anything like that. I had to learn how to feed myself again, pretty much like a baby.”
Melissa also learned that taking notes was a good idea, so she made sure to have a notepad with when she went to see the doctor. She always asked questions, and whoever was in the room with her would write down what they said.
The hospital deals with a lot of brain bleeds. “But not quite like mine,” said Melissa. Her mom, Ginger Hansen, who was with her almost every day, said the brain bleeds are all different and they can come in different places in your head. “Melissa’s was in a good location where they could get to it.”
Melissa said she has lots and lots of continued therapy. “It’s a year later, and I’m still doing physical therapy. I did occupational therapy, speech therapy, vision therapy, and it continues every day.”
Her problems didn’t end there. She’s had two more life-threatening seizures since then and today suffers from myoclonic jerking and neuropathy. The brain is sending the signal, but it’s being blocked; the signal isn’t getting to her leg.
“It’s one of those things I can’t do which makes it a little harder to drive because you have to lift your foot up a little to hit the brake, and the brake is a good thing to have,” she said.
The myoclonic jerking causes her leg to jump and kick. She said her brain “kind of has a short in it” and it sends a message to her leg. She said her leg stomps all the time.
“To me it feels like it starts in my hip, like my whole leg is a firecracker, and you start the firecracker, you light it in my hip, and it goes down, and I can feel it flaming and burning until it hits my knee and then it jumps and kicks. That’s when I feel like the firecracker is going off.” A lot of times, she said, it will knock her to the ground, so she has to use a cane or a walker when walking.
Melissa said she can feel her big toe on her right side, but she can’t feel all her little toes, so when she walks she tries to put all the pressure on her big toe so she feels balanced. “That will probably never come back.”
Melissa said she feels fortunate and lucky. “I guess I was the chosen one because I was strong enough to handle it.” Traffic, headlights, bright lights, and motion all bother her. She said it’s been a long year, and everybody worries about her. “My depth perception is way off, too. When I first got home it was terrible, and even now, I try reach for a pen, and it might be over here to me, but really it’s over there. I’d open up cupboards and whack myself in the head. I couldn’t lift my leg enough for any little rugs, floor mats or door mats.” They all had to be removed.
She’s had a couple of walkers and canes, since she needed help showering, bathing, anything, and needed a shower chair. “You think at this stage in your life you shouldn’t need help taking a shower.”
Melissa has some nerve damage in her foot and bursitis in her hip and the right leg. “I’ve also learned while the brain bleed happened on the left side of my brain it affects the right side of your body. At 42 that’s something in your life you didn’t have to know how to do.. You had to know what to make for supper and that the kids have clean clothes, wash dishes and not worry what side the brain is going to bleed on and not affect you.”
In addition to the brain bleed, Melissa has had two life-threatening seizures and multiple smaller ones. With her first seizure the doctors figured it was from closing up her head, and it should not happen again. “She said ‘Mom, mom there’s an animal in my stomach; something is scratching inside, and it’s going up farther,” said Ginger. The doctor was right outside and came in and started medications for the seizure.
Her second seizure happened when they were on their way home from Maple Grove. “I started seeing funny things again, seeing visions of a house in the field, and there was nothing there. I felt like my whole right side was going numb again, and I started talking out of my mind.” Her husband called 911, and she was taken to North Memorial Hospital. Ambulance personnel had to intubate her while they were en route to the hospital.