By Cody Crawford
Meet Ciera at age 20. Pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education, living with roommates, paying her bills by working as a waitress, Ciera was every bit the traditional college student.
Her semester was a bit hectic, though. She had signed up for demanding courses, and in the process of juggling school and work schedules, she lost her job. Although it was wearisome, Ciera soon found a new job, working 40 hours a week waitressing at O’Charley’s.
With midterms approaching, she dedicated most of her free time to studying. “I could not have felt more ill-prepared,” Ciera remembered. Worried about making rent, she struggled to balance work, school, her social life, and a relationship with her fiancé, Ross.
On her fall holiday from school, Ciera took a break from studying one day and went to her mom’s house for a while. Ciera sat down at the kitchen table while her mom cleaned, and started to discuss school and work, which were vexing subjects for her. Her mom noticed her face turning red and suggested Ciera take out the trash to clear her mind. That’s when it happened.
“I walked over to the pantry door and pulled the trash out of the trash can, and suddenly the weirdest sensation came over me,” Ciera recalled. Her arm had fallen asleep. Since she had noticed that happening regularly lately, she ignored it walked outside.
“Making my way to the outside trash can in the garage, my legs seemed to buckle out from underneath me, and I fell to the ground.” Ciera felt confused as her mom rushed out to see what had happened. Her mom began to ask questions, but Ciera couldn’t speak. “I knew the words I wanted to say, but when I opened my mouth to tell her, it was like gibberish, almost as though my tongue was twisted in knots.”
Ciera’s mother, Melanie, remembers the day well. “My initial thought was that she was having a really severe panic attack,” she remarked. “I just wanted her to be really calm.” Although Ciera was suffering from a headache and felt dizzy, she went to lie down. Her mom called the doctor.
“Ciera called me shortly after it happened,” Ross said. “Her speech was greatly impaired and her mom had to get on the phone to tell me what happened because I couldn’t understand her.” Ross thought it sounded like a stroke, and talked to a nursing student he knew about it. “Because of Ciera’s age, she didn’t think it was a stroke and said that we should just wait to see what the doctor said the next day.”
The call Melanie received from the doctor was terrifying. Ciera had gotten an MRI, and when the results were viewed, the doctors ordered her to the emergency room right away.
“The doctors called frantically the morning after and exclaimed to my mother that she desperately needed to get me to the emergency room as soon as possible, that it was life and death, and that they had found something, but no one would tell me what,” Ciera recollected. “I have never felt more scared in my life.”
The doctors told Ciera that it was, in fact, a stroke. A clot in her brain that caused the stroke was a mere millimeter above her processing core. “It was really the most bizarre thing,” Melanie commented. “They had never seen a patient so young to have a stroke. The doctors were baffled.”
“If I had not gotten to the hospital in time,” Ciera commented, “I would have been brain dead, a vegetable, unable to ever participate in basic human activities such as urinating on my own, talking, walking, eating and drinking.” Ciera had narrowly escaped with her life.
Her recovery was difficult. “I lost my ability to speak normally the second the stroke happened, although for a few hours my speech would come and go for a little bit, but then it was gone suddenly and I began to speak as though I was deaf.” Ciera had to participate in occupational, speech and physical therapy for the right side of her body. She had to relearn how to do most things people learn as a child, such as picking things up, walking, jumping, speaking and writing. “I love to sing, and I felt it would be a tragedy if I could not sing anymore. So I worked at my speech rehabilitation the hardest.”
Ciera moved in with her mom during her recovery, living with her about two months. “She would come down with these horrific migraine headaches,” Melanie remembered. “It took a long time for all the symptoms to really go away.” Her mom, dad and Ross took care of her throughout her recovery.
Ciera had taken a medical leave of absence from school when she had her stroke. When it came time to go back to school, she was not excited. “I would have to have all these special modifications made for me to be able to succeed in the classroom. It was extremely embarrassing.
“It was just too much for her to get around campus,” Melanie said. “For a couple of years, actually, she would tire very easily.” Ciera and her mom went to register for classes anyway, but an unfortunate surprise awaited her.
The school had not processed her paperwork for the medical leave properly. “I had in their eyes basically flunked my entire fall semester of college,” Ciera said. “I was devastated. I would basically have to start all over again, even though I had worked very hard for the grades I already had.” Ciera would have to retake all the classes she had “failed” that semester, in addition to raising her now abysmal GPA.
It was a turning point in Ciera’s life. She had a long talk with her Mom, who asked her to make sure she really wanted to be a teacher before she decided to continue her college career. Ciera took weeks to think it over, and decided that being a teacher had never really been that important to her.
She decided she might want to be a hairdresser. “I’ve always loved playing around with hair and been so fascinated with the beauty industry … I decided to give it a shot!”
“We had many discussions about it and I supported her the whole way,” Ross said. “I thought it would be less stressful on her than going to college to become a teacher.”
Ciera took the spring semester off from school and spent the next few months researching beauty schools. She says she researched until she “had enough information on the beauty industry to last me a career five times over.” She settled on the Boro’ Barber Academy and Style College in Murfreesboro and now works at the pilot store for Sport Clips in Franklin as a Master Barber.
“I have never had a job that I actually enjoyed waking up and going to work,” Ciera says. “I like to think of myself as the morale booster and class clown in the shop. Most of all, it has been a great continuation of rehabilitations for me, both occupational and physical, throughout the healing process of my stroke.”
“There is always a risk of having a stroke again, but the doctors seem to think of it as just a fluke accident. I like to think of it as a ‘divine intervention’ to show me what it is I’m truly meant for in this life.”
Cody Crawford holds a degree in software engineering and recently joined the staff of Validity as Director of Digital Innovation.