RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - One Richmond woman is making a remarkable recovery after suffering a brainstem stroke at the age of 21. Olivia Lewis was a senior at VCU when she felt what she describes as ‘lightning’ go down her spine.
“I flung myself out of bed, except I didn’t land on my feet but on my head,” Lewis said. “I was conscious, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t yell to my roommate, and I really thought that I was going to die like that.”
Lewis was transported to St. Mary’s Hospital intensive care where doctors determined that she had suffered a brainstem stroke, which leads to lock-in syndrome. Locked-in syndrome is an extremely rare neurological disorder that affects less than 1% of stroke victims. Lewis was aware of everything around her, but couldn’t communicate other than moving her eyes.
“It was honestly your worst nightmare, I felt like was being buried alive,” said Lewis. “They would write out the alphabet and I would have to blink when they got to the right letter, eventually spelling out sentences like ‘I need water.”
It took Olivia almost a year to come out of her locked-in status. Another year for her to learn how to move, talk, and walk again. During which, doctors tried to convince her family to put Lewis in a nursing home as they thought it would be her best option.
“My family refused,” Lewis said. “They helped me work in physical therapy every day, and I just kept telling myself that I was going to get my life back. I was not going to live my life in a bed.”
Her determination paid off, Olivia is able to walk independently and is able to talk for long stretches of time, though it can be exhausting. She is now in her final semester at VCU and will be graduating in the summer.
“I just want people to know that you can feel isolated, and you can feel like your life is on pause, but you have to keep going,” said Lewis. “You have to keep being determined no matter what you might be facing, and push forward because if you do - it will get better.”
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