Seventeen-year-old Lauren Cumberledge survived a devastating stroke because of several lucky factors, including a cell phone and a treatment team that she desperately needed.
On January 10, 2009, on her way home from school, Lauren developed a massive headache. She took a nap, hoping the pain would subside. But when she awoke, she was sick to her stomach.
"This was not Lauren's first encounter with bad headaches," said Debbie Keating, Lauren's mother. "In fact, she had a history of migraines. While I was concerned about how Lauren was feeling, I presumed that this headache, like the others before, would go away over time."
Lauren felt poorly the rest of the day. That night, when she went to bed, her mother did something out of the ordinary: She told her to keep her cell phone in bed with her. Keating's bedroom was on another floor of the house, and she wanted to be certain Lauren could reach her immediately, if necessary.
During the night, Lauren's condition worsened. She called her mother from her cell phone. It only took a few moments for Debbie to reach her daughter's bedside, but by that time, Lauren was unresponsive and laying in her own vomit.
Lauren was rushed to Yale-New Haven Children's Hospital's Emergency Department, where a team of critical care specialists began to unravel the medical mystery of Lauren's illness.
An MRI revealed that Lauren had a large clot in her basilar artery - one of the vessels that supplies blood to critical parts of the brain - and the type of clot that most people do not survive. The team from Yale-New Haven Primary Stroke Center, made up of pediatric and adult neurologists, neuro-intensivists, neuro-interventionalists, a pediatric cardiologist and a hematologist, elected to treat the clot by delivering tPA, a medication to dissolve the clot, through a small catheter that was threaded through to the vessel in the back of her brain.
According to Lauren's neurologist, Joseph Schindler, MD, the Stroke Center's director, strokes in children are rare. In fact it is estimated that among children under the age of 16, the stroke rate is 2.5 per 100,000 children per year.
"Strokes are difficult to recognize in children and adolescents because they have different risk factors and different symptom presentation than adults," said Dr. Schindler. "And even when their symptoms are consistent with a stroke, they are often attributed to other causes such as seizure, infection, migraine headache, substance abuse, or malingering. These diagnostic challenges make the importance of having a well-trained emergency team critical in being able to provide an immediate evaluation and prompt diagnosis."
Lauren's stroke caused weakness in her left arm and leg and difficulty with her speech. Members of Yale-New Haven's rehabilitation service immediately began planning her recovery care. She was young and had been healthy before her stroke and so she was determined to conquer the challenges of stroke rehabilitation.
Four months following her stroke, Lauren fulfilled her dream of going to the prom with her boyfriend, Chris.
"Lauren worked really hard to achieve her goal of going to the prom," said Dr. Schindler. "Her determination and young age, contributed to her remarkable recovery. While strokes in young adults can be devastating, they have a better ability to heal than an adult. With the help of physical and speech therapy, many childhood stroke survivors can have a good recovery. At Yale-New Haven Hospital, we have an expert team of therapists who help children achieve their goals."
Recently, Lauren telephoned Dr. Schindler to let him know she was planning a trip to the Virgin Islands. Dr. Schindler responded by writing her a prescription with one simple directive: "Have the most awesome time!"