Maddi suffered a stroke 10 days after college graduation

Guest blog by Maddie Niebanck, stroke survivor, entrepreneur and advocate.

Sometimes life is great, everything is going your way, and you feel on top of the world, like when I graduated from Georgetown University in May of 2017. I felt like I could do anything. I walked down Healy Lawn the morning of May 20th to receive my diploma and reap the fruits of a rigorous yet fulfilling academic career. I then proceeded to celebrate (maybe a bit too much) with all my best friends and family.

So yeah, you could say I was living my very best life. I was so excited to turn the page and begin my next chapter. I had a job lined up in Boston that I was excited about, and three months to relax, travel, and catch up with friends before I made the big move.

But sometimes when things are going exceptionally well, it feels like the universe wants to spite us and show us that ultimately, we don’t always have complete control over our situation, and it can change at any moment. Shit happens.

Barely a week after I shook President DeGioia’s hand and received my diploma, my life as I knew it changed forever.
On May 30, 2017 I checked into the hospital for brain surgery. Since childhood, I was plagued with terrible migraines, culminating in a series of migraines lasting over 20 days when I was in high school. My neurologist decided to order an MRI, which confirmed our suspicions that there was something else going on.

It was discovered that I had a rare arteriovenous malformation (AVM for short), in the right occipital lobe of my brain. I made the decision to have brain surgery once I graduated college to remove the risk of a potential rupture. I was informed that with each year of life there is an increased chance of the AVM bleeding and causing a stroke or even death.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the idea of brain surgery, but I was even less a fan of dying from an AVM bleed, so I decided to go in for brain surgery and have it removed. The doctors told me that if everything went well, I would rest and recover for a month or two and be in perfect condition to move up to Boston and start my job at the end of the summer.

Well, let’s just say that didn’t happen as planned. One of the pre-operative procedures caused a blood clot in my brain which burst, causing a massive brain hemorrhage and an emergency surgery. On his way into surgery, the neurosurgeon told my parents that “the situation was grim. It doesn’t look good,” and then he rushed off to the OR.

Seven hours and 6 liters of blood transfusions later, I lay completely paralyzed on the left side of my body in a hospital bed in the New York Presbyterian ICU. Upon waking up from a coma a few hours later, I had no idea what had happened and it was unclear what recovery from this might look like.

Fast forward to May 2024, 7 years post-stroke, and my life has changed tremendously, for the better. For the past 5 years I’ve been working full-time, I’m an author of two books (one on my recovery journey!), I live independently, I’m a passionate disability advocate and content creator, I host IRL stroke community events, and I l travel the world.

None of what I’m doing now with my life now even seemed remotely within the realm of possibility nearly 7 years ago, but if there is one thing I’ve learned it’s that obstacles are opportunities, and each moment presents us with a unique set of circumstances and choices to be made.

We can’t always control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond to it, and I’m determined to continue finding ways to turn this stroke into a an opportunity to blaze a new path forward. Onward!

Maddi tracks her stroke recovery on her Instagram account @MaddiStrokeofLuck