(My Life in a Thread)
By Wendy Vallejos
On the evening of May 20th, 2017, a week after I had run a half marathon, a traumatic event changed my life forever. After going on a 6 mile hike with my daughter and sister I started feeling a headache. Thinking that it was probably only the heat that had caused it, we decided to go on with the rest of our plans that evening, which was to go to the movies. Once at the movies the headache turned into a massive one, the worst pain I had ever experienced in my entire life that quickly radiated to my neck. My neck was rigid, in pain, and I was unable to move it. Right away I knew this was not normal for me, my daughter Googled what my symptoms could be. My sister asked me whether the light and noise were bothersome to know if it might be a migraine. I’ve experienced them before. I asked my sister to take me to the nearest ER. Once there, my family and I were told that my CT scan revealed a small bleed in my brain. In the midst of confusion, uncertainty and panic I was transferred in an ambulance to Keck Medical of University of Southern California. It wasn’t until the next morning that I was diagnosed with two brain aneurysms – one on the left and another on the right side which had ruptured. I was taken into emergency surgery to repair the aneurysm. During surgery the aneurysm ruptured a second time which complicated the procedure, so they had to drill into my head to stop the bleeding. Because of the complication, I was put in a medically induced coma to reduce the swelling in my brain. At that point doctors did not know whether I had had a stroke during the second rupture or what kind of state I was going to wake up in. The next few days were a nightmare for my family because the doctor was not sure of how long it would take for me to wake up, or whether I was going to wake up with significant physical deficits. He informed my family that based on the type of rupture, I had a fifty percent chance of survival so they were going to keep a close eye on my recovery.
After four days, the doctors stopped the sedation to see how my body would react. They also needed to check for any damage in my brain due to the complications during the surgery. This caused elevated pressure in my brain, so they had to sedate me once again. It took another five days before I was fully awake. During that time, they were able to run a test which revealed that indeed I had suffered a minor stroke during surgery. My family was informed that I may have trouble moving my left arm. I did not have any recollection of what had been happening around me. Soon after waking, I went into full recovery mode which meant physical therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy. However, my battle was not over. On December 20th, I underwent a second procedure to put a stent on the aneurysm on the left side, which was a success. My focus then was to recover 100%.
Being a runner for a few years now (I’ve ran 6 full marathons and 20+ half marathons), having a healthy diet, and the continuous and unconditional support from my daughter and my family have been crucial factors in my fast recovery. Still, I’ve had to jump a couple of hurdles, such as additional health issues that surfaced through the trauma, as well as having mixed emotions of guilt and disbelief that I had gone through this. All of this overwhelmed me at times to the point that I would question why all this had to happen to me. Why me? How could it be possible that one minute I was healthy and the next one I was fighting for my life? But the constant support and motivation from my family and connecting with Kathy Nguyen just a couple of days after I had woken up from my coma helped me see that there was light at the end of the tunnel. Knowing that she had gone through the same ordeal, and possibly worst than mine, and got back to what she loves to do the most, running marathons, gave me hope that I too one day in the near future will run marathons again. Thankfully I had one of the best physical therapist teams I could have asked for as they kept me motivated through it all. They knew my love for running, so they always reassured me that they would help me get back to it, and that encouraged me to not give up and push through whatever challenges this trauma brought me. Happy to say that my will to recover completely encouraged one of my physical therapists to sign up for and run the Los Angeles Marathon with me in 2018. Unfortunately, because of my second surgery in December I will not be able to run the marathon, but she will be running LA for me. So whenever I feel down or start remembering how hard it was to go through what I’ve gone through, I think of others that have also lived through it and I say to myself “if they can do it, so can I”, we are survivors!
Now I can completely continue recovering and getting back to what I love to do, one of them being running. Little by little I have gained my energy back, and have been able to do light runs with the goal of participating in the 2019 LA Marathon.
Recovering from two brain surgeries has definitely been the most challenging and scariest battle I have ever had to fight in my entire existence. Never in my life did I imagine that I would have to go through something so traumatic but I knew I had a daughter that needed me to survive this. I am thankful to God for always being by my side since day one, to my team of doctors for keeping me alive, and for having my family’s support through it all. It has brought me closer to them. I’ve learned to celebrate life even more. I am proud of my progress and I am thrilled to be a survivor! I look forward to not taking for granted this second chance of life that God has given me and can’t wait to run a marathon again.
Wendy immigrated from El Salvador to the United States 25 years ago. She is an Instructional Assistant for Special Education. Wendy mainly works with children with Autism. She is a single mother who loves running. Wendy started running in high school, but took a break for a few years. She started running again in 2013, and has been running ever since. Wendy has completed 6 marathons and over 20 half-marathons. In 2016, she graduated from California State University in Los Angeles with a degree in Child Development. In her free time, Wendy loves traveling, hiking, and going to Disneyland. And on top of it all, she is a brain aneurysm survivor!