Written by Erin Dailey
At just seven years old, Jamie Heath of Barre, Vermont began to show signs of stroke. Heath explains how she was in and out of consciousness and her head and neck began to feel very stiff. She went to multiple doctors who believed that she had meningitis, but thankfully her primary doctor ordered her a CT scan. The scan showed an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) deep inside her brainstem. However, because it was so deep inside the brainstem, it was inoperable, and the AVM ended up causing an aneurysm, resulting in a hemorrhagic stroke. Heath was in the hospital for 4 weeks before she was able to make a full recovery.
Five years later, on November 22, 2013, Heath was 12 years old and started experiencing signs of a stroke. Because she had been through this before, she was more alert when she started to recognize the signs. She was at school when her right leg began to feel numb. Being so young, Heath explains how she went to the water fountain with her friends to drink water to fix the problem. When that did not work, she knew something was wrong. She went to the school nurse and that is when her right arm went numb. By the time she made it to the hospital, she had no movement or feeling in her right hand.
When Heath was at the hospital, she learned that the AVM in her brainstem had bled, causing her second hemorrhagic stroke. Heath was put into a medically-induced coma for about 48 hours to let her brain rest and stayed at the hospital for 6 weeks after learning she suffered another stroke. This stroke caused more damage and stress on her body than the first and it left her with paralysis on the right side of her body. She remembers having to walk with a cane and feeling out of place as a young girl. Heath’s cognitive functions were affected as well. She had to relearn how to read and had trouble finding the words she wanted to say when having a conversation. “I owe therapy to helping me get to where I am today,” Heath explains. She did physical therapy until she was 16 years old and occupational therapy until she was 18 years old.
Heath was told she was no longer allowed to play sports, which was hard on young girl whose friends and classmates were all on different teams and bonded at practice. She felt like she was isolated and had a challenging time adjusting to this new lifestyle. “The next three years were really hard for me, and I fell into a depression. I had to learn how to find a new source of happiness.” Heath had to find new hobbies and activities she could participate in, which is when she discovered her interest in swimming. She was also age-appropriate to participate in Make-A-Wish, and the organization sent her to Hawaii to swim with the sea turtles. Heath accredits swimming and her trip to Hawaii with finding her happiness and her light again.
Jamie Heath is now a healthy 21-year-old and a graduate of Norwich University. Her life came full circle after graduation when she began to work for Make-A-Wish, now helping children who were once in a similar position to her find the light that she once struggled to see. Not only does she work for Make-A-Wish, but she also wrote a children’s book for the organization, titled “Wishes Are Medicine.” Jamie Heath is a true testament of a survivor who never gave up and turned a tough situation into something positive to help others!