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If Sarah-Grace Richardson could give any advice to mothers it would be this: “Listen to your body and be proactive.”
By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes, firstname.lastname@example.org
She was a runner. She was health conscious. She had two typical pregnancies.
But in April, two days after giving birth to her second son, Sarah-Grace Richardson experienced a stroke. She turned 24 in March.
During the month of May – Stroke Awareness Month - the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer the following statistics:
According to the CDC, both men and women are at risk of having a stroke but it’s more common among women and the risk increases with age.
“I was a previously healthy 24-year-old woman and had none of the risks and no family history,” said Richardson. “She hadn’t been sleeping much before the baby was born and she complained of migraines. We just thought she was exhausted. The last thing we could ever imagine was a stroke,” said her mother Cris Craig. Richardson is the middle child of Cris and Monty Craig. She has two older twin brothers, and a younger set of twins, a sister and brother.
A 2014 graduate of Hauser High School in Hope, Ind. Richardson participated in track and cross-country. As a child, she attended St. Louis Crossing Baptist Church in St. Louis Crossing, Ind. where her grandfather, Marvin Arnett, served as pastor. Monty Craig performs Southern Gospel music, all five of his children sang with the Indianapolis Children’s Choir, and Richardson and her husband perform in their new church home First Baptist Church in Hartsville.
After high school Richardson attended Grace College but she was smitten with another musician she met at church, Thomas Richardson. They began dating the year she graduated from high school. She finished up a degree in general studies and communications at nearby IUPU-Columbus and the couple married June 18, 2016.
“All I ever wanted to be was a homemaker,” said Richardson. On Aug. 17, 2018, the couple welcomed their first child, a son they named “Bear.” There were no complications during pregnancy and it was a smooth childbirth, said Richardson. So when their second son, Everett, was born on April 18th, they anticipated an equally typical birth.
The month before her second pregnancy Richardson was diagnosed with Ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease. Even facing the painful symptoms, Richardson pushed for 18 minutes and delivered a healthy 7-pound, 3-ounce baby boy.
But something wasn’t right. A couple days before the baby was born, Richardson complained of a headache. She made a call to her doctor who thought, as her family members did, that she lacking sleep from the pain of the Ulcerative colitis. Her son was born on a Saturday and by Monday Richardson woke up from a late afternoon nap unable to move the right side of her body.
“I don’t get headaches and the first night we were home was rough. We were up all night. Everett was having a hard time latching to nurse and all day Monday it felt like I was losing control of my muscles,” said Richardson. “I was trying to fix a bowl of cereal and I couldn’t get my body to move in the direction I wanted it to.”
Her husband called a family member to watch their boys and he rushed his wife to a nearby hospital. Within no time she was transported by ambulance to IU Health Methodist Hospital. She was admitted to ICU where she remained for several days. Richardson had a stroke.
“My stroke was interesting because it is a rare stroke and can sometimes happen to woman during labor. There is a surge in the hormones that cause blood clots to form. I had both blood clots and a brain bleed,” said Richardson. After several days she was moved from ICU to another room and was administered Heparin, used to prevent blood from clotting. Her extensive recovery extended beyond medicine.
“One minute I’m holding my newborn and the next minute I am in a hospital without my family due to COVID-19 restrictions,” said Richardson. “Throughout the whole process even though my brain was slow I was cognitively aware.” At first it was her right side that she couldn’t move but after a couple of days she also couldn’t move her left arm. “I nicknamed my left leg ‘old reliable’ because that was about the only part of my body where I could rely on not losing sensation,” said Richardson.
There was something else she grew to count on - three healthcare providers that she describes as her advocates, and her encouragers. Those three were Critical Care Nurse Madeline Cottrell, Occupational Therapist Emily Metz, and Physical Therapist Abby Marley.
“When I first started therapy it was like I had my own cheerleading squad. They gave me so much hope and really lifted my spirits,” said Richardson. Marley, expecting her second child, formed a special bond with Richardson.
“Being pregnant, her story immediately made my heart ache for her and her family. We are around the same age and I couldn’t help but think it could happen to me or someone else I love,” said Marley. When Richardson was unable to speak, the therapists secured a voice-activated I pad so she could communicate with her family and caregivers. “Some days I would go in just to talk, help her set up Face Time and scroll through her newborn’s photos. The thing that I found most surprising was how positive and appreciative she was with everyone,” said Marley. “Her strong faith was evident and I loved listening to her sing to her husband. She was so excited she could still sing despite her impaired mobility. Her voice is beautiful.”
Metz encouraged Richardson to use that voice to advocate for herself.
“As someone who couldn’t reposition or do anything for herself, and had no family present in the hospital, it was vital she learned to speak up and let her needs be known. She is such a sweet person, it was hard for her to ask for anything because she didn’t want to trouble anyone,” said Metz. “I was so incredibly happy to see any type of progress with her. As a mother to two young children myself, it was heartbreaking to think of the time she was missing out with her newborn. Sarah has never focused on that. She was so positive and was, by far, the best part of my day at work. She never had a bad attitude, even when she had every right to, and I think that has contributed to her amazing recovery so far,” said Metz.
Recently discharged from IU Health Methodist Hospital, Richardson continues her recovery at Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana. From a hospital bed, she spoke about her progress. Her dark brown eyes lit up as she talked about how far she has come in a matter or weeks. She spoke of her healthcare providers as friends who have helped braid her long brown hair, taken her outside for some sunshine, and guided her through therapy three and half hours daily.
She will remain in rehabilitation until early June.
“Sometimes I sit and think about what it will be like when I get home but every day I make so much progress. I have gone from taking baby steps to walking with my therapist next to me,” said Richardson. “It’s impossible to get bored because I’m relearning everything.”
When she first started communicating with her family she asked her husband to sing to her. Over time she began to sing with him and then she began calling at night to sing to their newborn at bedtime.
“I used to practice singing alone in my hospital room, then I began to sing in the courtyard outside – old hymns stored in my heart from childhood. The first few times it was difficult and slow getting enough breath support. Now when someone sees me in the courtyard they ask me to sing for them,” said Richardson.
“I told my husband it’s been very convicting. I was nervous to sing in front of people but since all this has happened, I’ve learned that it’s a blessing to bring the peace of God to them through music,” said Richardson.
“This is going to sound bizarre but I’m so humble and grateful that God has chosen to use me this way,” said Richardson. “This is so much bigger than Sarah. I would never have chosen to have a stroke in the middle of a pandemic after giving birth to my second child, at the age of 24. But I know that he is using me to touch many hearts and I’m grateful for the care I have received.”