Life after a Stroke
Writer // Janelle Morrison Photography // JJ Kaplan
Former WRTV-TV Channel 6 media personality Stacia Matthews would often report on health matters. Little did she know that the information she shared to save lives would one day help to save hers.
After a remarkable 23-year run with the Indianapolis station, Matthews retired from journalism and became the public relations manager for the Indiana Spine Group (ISG) in Carmel. In addition to her work in media and public relations, Matthews has coordinated and participated in several walks and marathons throughout her adult life.
An active singer for the local charity band, “Henle And The Loops,” Matthews enjoyed a “normal” lifestyle. On March 11, 2017, Matthews was enjoying an evening out with her family and friends, celebrating her birthday a couple of days early. Afterwards, Matthews and her sister went to a local grocery store to pick up some items for the next day’s dinner. Matthews complained to her sister that she was having a “weird” headache. Matthews drove them to her home and proceeded to take some of the groceries inside. Still complaining of a headache, Matthews’ sister advised her to take some over-the-counter pain relievers and go to bed. Her sister stayed the night and was awakened by Matthews who ordered her sister not to let her fall asleep, watch for paralysis, not to let her lay down, keep her talking and get her to the hospital.
Matthews was later told by her family and doctors that she walked into the emergency room, on her own accord, at a local hospital and informed the staff that she was having a stroke. Matthews’ self-diagnosis would prove correct. She had suffered a Hemorrhagic stroke where a ruptured blood vessel causes bleeding inside the brain. Matthews was put into a medically induced coma for several days. She remained in a coma for two weeks, terrifying her family and friends. She would awake from the ordeal three weeks later, a survivor of a stroke.
Matthews didn’t fit the “profile” of someone being susceptible to a stroke, but here she is putting a face on someone who’s recovering from a stroke. When asked what the face of a stroke survivor looks like, she replied, “It looks like me.”
There are no visible signs of having suffered a stroke anywhere on Matthews’ face. She did not suffer paralysis of her extremities or her facial muscles. Her vocal chords were impaired due to the tracheotomy that was performed because of the coma, and there was injury to her brain as a result of the bleeding. But to look at her today, one would not realize that she had a stroke. To
hear her speak today, one still may not realize as a result of her intensive physical and vocal therapy.
“It [stroke] doesn’t care who you are,” Matthews said. “It doesn’t care if you are young, old and wealthy or if you work three jobs. It can strike anyone. Before the stroke, I stayed fairly active and kept my schedule full. My co-workers would tease me at work and say, ‘Where are you going now?’ and ‘You need to sit down’ because I was always on the go. The stroke forced me to slow down.”
Matthews recalled the weekend’s events leading up to suffering her stroke. “I wasn’t feeling any symptoms. As a matter of fact, I was feeling good. I was celebrating my birthday a few days early. My niece and my sister came into town to surprise me. The weekend had been basically like any other. I’m in a band, and it had a gig that weekend. I got up the next morning, that Saturday morning, and I represented Indiana Spine Group at a health fair. Afterwards, I got ready to have dinner at Ruth’s Chris to celebrate my birthday early. There was nothing unusual about the day.”
She had no symptoms and felt fine at that point in the day. “We sat around the table and just talked, and when we left, my sister asked if we could stop at a grocery store,” Matthews recalled. “I remember going into Kroger. I remember being in Kroger, but I don’t remember much after that. The next thing I know, almost a month had passed, and I’m looking at myself in the mirror at Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana (RHI). My hair was uneven and shaven on the right side. I was wearing pajamas that I did not recognize. I barely recognized the woman that I saw in the mirror. I remember saying, really loudly, ‘Oh my God, my hair is jacked!’ I felt like I was having an out-of-the-body experience.”
Over the next several days, Matthews tried to grasp what had happened, asking where she was and how she got there. “It seemed to take forever to get my wits about myself,” she said. “The doctors, therapists and social workers at RHI are kind and compassionate. They were very loving and patient with me, but they do not mess around.”
Matthews described her therapy as her “journey back to me.” “I was unaware that I was repeating myself, and I had to remember how to do simple things, like tying my shoes and brushing my teeth.” During a session with her psychiatrist, Matthews recalled him advising her that she may have to come to grips with a new reality and a new version of her. “I heard him, but it didn’t really register until therapy really got underway,” she said.
Matthews expressed her gratitude for having survived and for how far she has come in her recovery. “I was having breakfast one morning, and some other patients came in,” she said. “They were young men who had suffered strokes and were paralyzed. I went back to my room and cried. Not because I felt sorry for myself, but because I am so grateful that I’m alive and that I recognized the signs. I knew something was wrong, I knew the signs and I acted on them.”
Matthews left RHI and went to Allisonville Meadows to continue her physical therapy. When she returned to work, Matthews knew that her routine would be different but that she had the support of the doctors and staff at ISG. Dr. Kevin Macadaeg, a specialist at ISG, is a cancer survivor and understood the importance of Matthews getting back to her routine as part of her recovery.
“I believe that returning to the familiarity in our lives helps to draw ourselves out of the hole that Stacia found herself in,” Macadaeg said. “For someone like her, a down-to-earth and passionate person, to take a hit the way she did and be able to pull herself out of it like she did is impressive. She got back to her familiar environment both at home and at work, and I think that was key to her recovery.”
Matthews has a new lease and a new perspective on her life. She continues to eat healthy, exercise and is working toward getting back into 5K races as a goal for this year.
“I’m on medication for life, and I monitor my blood pressure every day,” Matthews said. “The stroke has taught me a lot about taking care of myself. I talk to anyone who will listen about my story. I credit knowing the signs for saving my life. The signs are slurred speech, loss of vision, numbness or paralysis on one side and severe headache. It can happen to anyone at any time, so it’s important that people know the signs and get medical treatment immediately.”