Walker Wednesday: Meet Laura!

What Is Walker Wednesday?     
Walker Wednesday is a day dedicated to stories of TAAF Walk-ers just like YOU!  Theirs are tales of courage, hardship, sacrifice, love and so much more detailing the odyssey faced by those affected by aneurysm and AVM.  Whether you TAAF Walk to express your joy, sorrow, lessons learned or simply the power of community, we hope you will see yourself in the sharing of these stories.

Meet Laura Speights Thomas     
If Laura has ever gifted you one of her famous YourPrayerBearFriends bears, then you should count yourself in very good company.  Not only did she think enough of you so as to receive one, but you were also fortunate to meet this incredibly strong survivor. Her team's name is even Team Determination (check them out here), and we think you'll soon understand why.  Please enjoy her videos and memoir; please Meet Laura!

Meet Laura! Laura's Team: Team Determination

On Oct 6, 2014, I had a brain aneurysm rupture at work. My boss called 911 after I told her to tell them that "something popped." The dispatcher said, "sounds like an aneurysm." Continually sick, the EMT arrived and took me to the hospital in Davis. My blood pressure was 170/57. With no neurologist close by, they ambulanced me to Sutter General Hospital in Sacramento, 40 minutes away. I was still sick the entire time. I was told that no pain meds could be given to me in case surgery was needed. But it felt like a jack hammer drilling down the center of my head!

I had an MRI immediately upon arrival, and they could clearly see that I had had a large aneurysm (about 6mm) rupture and excessive bleeding on the brain. The next morning they performed another MRI to check bleeding around my brain wall. It was then that they found an AVM as well, 2.4 cm.

The team rushed me back to OR, but determined that they could not operate they way they wanted to; it was too risky because of the location. Instead, I had it glued and coiled. My blood pressure spiked to 300 during the procedure, and I ended up having a hemorrhagic stroke on the operating table, paralyzing my left side and partially blinding me in my left eye.

I was placed in the ICU with strict blood pressure control orders. My team had to release swelling three times during the first four days I was there. I'm told that I lost consciousness twice in the ICU. On fifth day I woke up freaking out because the left side of my face was numb. I also couldn't move my left arm, hand or leg. Things were blurry in that left eye. This was when I was told I had a hemorrhagic stroke. I remember crying because life as I had known it would be no longer.

On the 10th day I was transferred to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. This is where I began intense 6 hours a day of physical therapy, OT and speech therapy. They would wake me up at 730 in the morning, have me find bathroom stuff, etc., then they would teach me to get dressed and such, ALL ONE HANDED now. Later, from 8-9AM, I went to physical therapy where the tried to teach me to walk again. From 9-10AM I had occupational therapy, and then from 10-11AM I would go to speech. I could speak, but most words came out slurry. After speech I had two hours to roll around in my wheelchair and go to the cafeteria. Most of the time I ended up in my room. I'm not going to lie; I cried numerous times because I just didn’t understand why this was happening to me. Later on, probably months down the road, it dawned on me: Why not me? God knew I was strong enough to be given this challenge.

Finally, therapy started again from 1-4pm. I usually visited family and friends in afternoon, and I remember lying in beg talking to my leg to lift itself up off the bed. On the 6th day at Davis it did, and I screamed a loud piercing scream. Two nurses ran in, and I told them to watch as my leg rose up about 3 inches under the sheet. 

Laura Learns to Walk in Rehab
I was in that rehab hospital for 5 weeks and three days until I was finally able to take six steps without falling. It was my sleepy leg as they called it. I was sent home, but now I no longer had nurses or doctors. I slowly--very slowly--started to attempt a few steps at a time. Yes I fell quite a lot. But they had wanted me to go to therapy four times a week which would have been an hour there and back plus time at physical therapy itself. No way! My husband would leave work three hours a day for me, so that’s when I started gripping the walls at my house, eventually walking a lap around the kitchen and living room. You can see my video on FB.  

Laura Leaves Rehab

At 9 1/2 months, this is me leaving doctors walking down 8 stairs instead of talking the elevator.

So I set a goal for my one year anniversary. I invited my family and friends to walk a 1/4 mile and back near our home.  And I wanted to cross a red ribbon in front of my kids. That is us in 2015 reaching my goal.

1 Year Celebration With Family

Laura's 1 Year Celebration Laura Crosses the Finish Line
Then in 2016 I had a set back. I had a gamma knife procedure done and my body did not react well to the radiation. I was put on steroids, and I was so swollen that I could not even get my AFO (my ankle/foot orthotic brace I wear daily to keep my ankle from rolling when I walk) on. I had wanted to attempt TAAF Walk, but now I couldn’t.

After Gamma Knife

In 2017 I pushed myself like I never knew I could.  My new goal was to try to walk some of TAAF Walk. To my delight, I did walk some, but needed my wheelchair too.  You can see my video on FB.  For this TAAF Walk my kids and friends wore blue. I told them that I definitely wanted to walk through the arch, and I did. 

Go Blue!

It turned out that in 2017 I did the walk in 2 hours and 44 minutes. So for 2018 I set two goals for myself.  First, I wanted to walk the entire TAAF Walk with no wheelchair. (I even told Matt, my husband, to leave it home.) And I did it!
She did it!
I finished TAAF Walk last year in 2 hours and 21 minutes; look for our celebratory green shirts (and our short video on FB). Second, I wanted to play pool again, one of my biggest my passions before all the brain stuff. I had to teach myself how to play one handed, but I did that too!  

Laura plays pool again!

This is me today.

Lovely Laura Speights Thomas 2019

Life is full of daily challenges, and I think you never know your strength until challenged with circumstance. Plus, one great thing happened when I was in the hospital. I was given a bear. I saw that bear every day before and after therapy, and it became a friend to me. Remembering this feeling, I later created YourPrayerBearFriend on Facebook. I send out bears with a badge to brain trauma children and adults helping to remind them that they are no alone and that they can overcome tough obstacles. Years ago when I received my own fuzzy friend, it was the smiles I remembered. My hope is that these bears will bring a little of that to others like me, so they know that hope that I felt. 

Laura's Bears  Laura's Bears

My TAAF Walk team is "Team Determination." We know that it’s easier to give up than it is to fight, but putting in the fight is much more rewarding in the end. Thank you for your love and support. Stay strong friends!

Go Team Determination!

Still need to REGISTER or want to support a walker or team? Click HERE for all the fun!