Young stroke survivor gains perspective

Amanda Boyer poses for a photograph May 31 in her home in Surprise. Ms. Boyer had a stroke in March 2016 that could be linked to her choice of birth control. [Jacob Stanek/Independent Newsmedia]
By Richard Smith
Independent Newsmedia

Amanda Boyer woke up before dawn March 22, 2016 celebrating the sixth anniversary of her job with the Surprise Police Department, and “in the best shape of my life.”

She was fortunate to wake up the next day. Planning to work out before starting her shift, she grabbed a quick shower and started to get dressed.

“When I went to put my shirt on, all of a sudden I couldn’t find my right arm. I lost all the vision in my right eye. I thought I was having a migraine because with my migraines the first thing to go is vision usually in the right eye. I picked up my phone to call work and tell them I wasn’t coming in. And I looked at my phone for a very long time, trying to figure out how to use it.” she said.

At this point she passed out and woke up on the floor, wedged next to the door. She pushed herself into the hallway, where her dad, Bob, found her.

Ms. Boyer was staying at her father’s house preparing for a move, which proved doubly fortuitous. Otherwise, only her then-5-year-old daughter Addyson would have been at home.

Hearing her at first, Mr. Boyer thought the problem was in her hip, already operated on three times. Quickly, his more than three decades experience as an EMT informed him that his 32-year-old daughter was having a stroke.

“I looked up and he said one side of the face was drooping. It was minimal but noticeable,” Ms. Boyer said. “I thought it was a migraine and was trying to get him to help me back to bed. Had I gotten my way, I probably would not have been found alive. My dad called 911. The last think I remember was being loaded up in the ambulance. I woke up in the ICU at Banner University (Hospital).”

Bob Boyer’s prompt action probably saved her life and definitely improved her quality of life once she recovered. Banner Health neurology specialist Joyce Lee-Ianotti said Mr. Boyer acted quickly enough that she only lost about 10 percent of the brain capacity that discovering it later would have caused.

During a stroke, she said, victims lose 2 million cells per minute.

“That’s why we say time is brains,” Ms. Lee-Ianotti said.

First taken to Banner Thunderbird Medical Center in Glendale, Ms. Boyer quickly went to the downtown Phoenix hospital with a larger stroke center. Ms. Lee-Ianotti said the team at Banner University rapidly removed the blood clot from her brain and began working on the four clots in her lungs.

Ms. Boyer then woke up and thought she was dying. Her father sat next to her trying to explain what happened.

When she was stable, doctors searched for the root cause of the stroke. None of the usual signs, which are similar to signs of heart disease — high cholesterol, obesity, blood pressure or sleep apnea — applied to Amanda.

Later tests revealed no underlying blood disorders. The only change in her health regimen? Ms. Boyer changed birth control from a pill to a NuvaRing device in December 2015 and her stroke occurred four months later.

“I didn’t want to take a pill every day so my doctor changed my medication. Now I have to take 10 times more meds. Hopefully not forever,” she said.

May was National Stroke Awareness Month. But year round vigilance is needed, particularly for those who may think they’re too young to have a stroke.

Research released in 2016 by the Journal of the American Heart Association showed that while stroke hospitalizations decreased from 2000 to 2010 in older adults, hospitalization rates were up 43.8 percent in people ages 25 to 44.

More than a year later, she is reflective and determined to continue improvement. In the immediate aftermath of the stroke Ms. Boyer was, understandably, despondent.

“She probably to this day has a form of PTSD from it,” Ms. Lee-Ianotti said.

Depression was major issue in the first five days, her neurologist said. It was hard to know if she would be able to care for her child or herself.

Ms. Boyer credited her family, Ms. Lee-Ianotti and friends for pulling her out of her despair. Ms. Lee-Ianotti said it all began with the support of Bob Boyer.

“I have never seen someone recover so quickly,” Ms. Lee-Ianotti said.

As her daughter was quick to tell her, Ms. Boyer was away from home for 15 days. Six months of outpatient rehab followed.

Ms. Lee-Ianotti said Ms. Boyer was walking after about eight weeks. She still has semi-annual checkups.

“She’s so Type A. I think she’s her hardest critic,” Ms. Lee-Ianotti said. “If you were to have dinner with her walk down the street you would never know she suffered a stroke. She is what we envision for all our stroke patients.”

Amanda Boyer poses for a photograph May 31 in her home in Surprise. Ms. Boyer had a stroke in March 2016 that could be linked to her choice of birth control. [Jacob Stanek/Independent Newsmedia]
At the time of her stroke, Ms. Boyer was training to do a body composition show, eating healthy and working out six days a week. That allowed her to bounce back physically.

Cognitive thought was the biggest issue then and remains so more than a year later. She said at times, her brain stops processing things.

That is a difficult hurdle at a regular job. As an emergency dispatcher, Ms. Boyer’s job requires more quick thinking and processing than most careers.

“Terminology was extremely difficult for me, even in a basic sentence. I would have to pause for a period of time just trying to find the next work. Speech was probably the hardest part for me because with walking, I knew I was progressing and healing. Speech is your first true interaction with someone and for me it was embarrassing,” Ms. Boyer said.

She returned to work about five months after the stroke, but was restricted to light duty — i.e. paperwork — for four months.

In a couple weeks she expects to be back to her former responsibilities as a dispatcher without needing help. For the daughter of an EMT for Southwest Ambulance who grew up in a public safety family, it is the ultimate sign of recovery.

Right now she has assistance with calls, and some 911 calls resonate far more.

“I never truly understood what happens during a stroke. I didn’t realize how truly devastating they could be answering some of the 911 calls. Now I can truly emphathize to where it breaks my heart and makes me sick to my stomach,” she said.

She would like to see less medical terminology and more laymen’s terminology associated with medication and would like regular checkups to incorporate more testing to pinpoint signs of a stroke.

Now that she has survived a stroke, though, Ms. Boyer said she is glad the experience made her take another look at her life and her priorities.

“I wouldn’t change it at all. I wouldn’t change anything about it. It was a rude awakening. It makes you realize how precious life really is and made me realize how much I was taking for granted, especially my daughter,” she said.

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