A rare stroke at 24

One weekend in May 2020, 24-year-old Courtney was at her parents' home in Winnipeg. Her sister left the room, returned seconds later, and found Courtney on the floor experiencing a seizure.

She had experienced a superior sagittal venous thrombosis, a rare type of stroke, with a large blood clot and bleeding in her brain. Courtney's brain was dangerously swollen. To relieve the pressure, doctors temporarily removed a piece of her skull. They stapled her scalp back in place, but beneath it there was no bone, just brain. The surgery to replace her skull was delayed, partly due to COVID-19 disruptions. Courtney had to wear a custom pink helmet to protect her brain.

Life without half her skull required adaptation, like needing her mother's help to wash her hair. Finally, after three months, surgeons restored her skull, she celebrated by taking a sledgehammer to the pink helmet.

Courtney's recovery was demanding, physically and mentally. She was angry at first about everything she had lost, including work she loved as a primary teacher, and some friendships with people who did not understand what she was going through. It took some time to learn how to walk again. Using her father-in-law's old bike made her fall in love with cycling.

Courtney still lives with epilepsy and has the occasional seizure, but is otherwise back to pre-stroke health. She now works as a crisis line counsellor and coaches crisis line volunteers. She's grateful for her husband's unwavering support, and her family for being with her every step. She's made peace with new priorities: "Life is so short and fragile," she says. "I'm not wasting my time on things that I don't want to do."

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