“I didn’t think this could happen at such a young age”
Mother. Wife. Nurse. Stroke survivor. Not many can identify with all four, but Jennifer Pickell can.
Pickell, now 35, was six months into maternity leave for her third daughter in July 2019 when life changed.
A migraine sufferer since high school, Pickell wasn’t immediately concerned with the migraine she felt while showering—until her right side went numb.
“The next thing I remember is waking up and thinking I was still in the middle of my shower. I started talking; I tried to get up and walk,” recalls Pickell.
Little did Pickell know that all in a matter of hours she had been rushed from her house just south of Morris, Manitoba, to Boundary Trails Health Centre in Winkler, to taking flight in the STARS air ambulance, to Health Sciences Centre where she had a thrombectomy, a surgical procedure that removed the blood clot from her brain.
“I never thought this could happen at such a young age—I’ve always been healthy and active. I am still in disbelief that this happened,” says Pickell.
Despite the stress and danger of the situation, the odds were in Pickell’s favour that fateful day last July. Pickell’s husband, who almost always works out of town on weekdays, happened to be home and heard his wife cry out in the shower. His presence and quick reaction were critical, as the type of stroke Pickell had—a basilar artery stroke—is particularly sinister. Unbeknownst to her, Pickell lived with a hole in her heart that caused her blood to flow irregularly, ultimately causing the acute stroke.
“Less than 10 percent of our annual stroke patient population is under 40-years-old. I often see patients 60 and older,” says Dr. Jai Shankar, interventional neuroradiologist at HSC. “While suffering a stroke at Pickell’s age is rare, it isn’t unheard of and is often the result of an underlying heart disease they aren’t aware of. Young people also need to remember the signs of a stroke—awareness is key!”
Despite lacking the balance and endurance she once had, Pickell’s life is returning to normal and she hopes to return to work this fall.
“I had excellent care in HSC’s intensive care unit. I especially remember the day-shift nurse Marilyn, she was fantastic. I saw many doctors, resident doctors, and nurses by my hospital bedside. I appreciate them all and realize that it takes a team to provide this level of care,” says Pickell. “I also want to thank the staff at Boundary Trails Health Centre, STARS, my family, friends, and the community of St-Jean-Baptiste.”
Pickell’s remarkable recovery is credited to the quick response of her husband and the excellent, timely care she received at HSC.
“The speed of the whole process helped Jennifer more than her age,” notes Shankar.
Please remember the FAST acronym if you think someone is experiencing a stroke. If any of the below signs are present, call 9-1-1 immediately.
Face: is it drooping?
Arms: can you raise both?
Speech: is it slurred or jumbled?
Time: time to call 9-1-1 right away.
To help patients like Jennifer Pickell, please support the Jai Shankar Neuro Research and Education Fund. The fund was established by Dr. Shankar in 2018 to support equipment purchases, research, education, and training related to neuroimaging and interventional neuroradiology. To contribute, please call the HSC Foundation at 204-515-5612 or toll-free at 1-800-679-8493.
To learn about other HSC Foundation giving options, please click here.
Your gift will save lives, change lives, and bring comfort to families throughout Manitoba.
By Natasha Havrilenko