(NEWS10) – Kayla Overly was working in her dream job as a physician’s assistant in neurology helping care for stroke victims.
She was also a fitness coach, sharing her healthy lifestyle with a growing online following.
Then at the age of 29, she had a stroke.
“I remember being on the floor of the kitchen, my words weren’t coming out correctly. I didn’t have good strength in the right side of my body,” Overly said.
All classic signs of a stroke that she had heard from patients she’d cared for at Ellis Medicine.
Young and healthy, she had none of the risk factors.
Instead, her stroke came after an exercise injury led to a tear in an artery in her neck called a vertebral artery dissection. It’s one of the most common causes of stroke in young people.
She even mentioned it to her husband after she came home from kickboxing class.
“I told him, I think I have a dissection. I think I need to go to the hospital and get a CAT scan, and we kind of both joked about it and brushed it off.”
The next morning, the neck pain came back along with more frightening symptoms.
“I remember trying to pick my hand up to get my phone because I always videotape my workouts and my arm did this, and it was kind of just floating there, and I couldn’t get it to work.”
It was the start of her first stroke. She had two and was taken by ambulance to the very hospital where she worked.
“I even went through the ER when they were bringing me up to the neuro intensive care unit with a sheet over my head because I didn’t want people to see me. I got admitted to my own unit where I worked with nurses day in and day out where we’ve taken care of very sick patients. Patients who are dying, family members who have to deal with those situations, and those were the nurses who ended up taking care of me.”
After a few days, Kayla was out of the hospital. That’s when she says the real work began: weeks of intensive physical and occupational therapy.
She shared her struggles with her online fitness family, writing and showing what it was like to teach herself to walk without a limp, comb her hair, type on a keyboard, and most importantly, to not give up.
“I think that my fitness level that I was at when this stroke happened actually saved me from it being 10 times worse.”
Kayla is back to exercising, she started a new job at a larger hospital in Massachusetts where she can play a bigger role in research and innovations in stroke care.
“It made me a lot more empathetic towards them and what they’re feeling and actually understand. So instead of explaining what they’re going to go through, I actually went through it.”
Six months into being a stroke survivor, Kayla is the stroke ambassador for the American Heart Association and shares the message “BE FAST” to recognize the signs of a stroke:
B if your balance is off or you’re dizzy;
E stands for eyesight, watch for blurry or double vision;
F is face: are you getting a facial droop or notice it in someone else;
A stands for arm, are you weaker on one side;
S is your speech slurred, or you’re having trouble getting the words out;
T the most important is time. Every second counts when you’re having a stroke to call 9-1-1 and get to the hospital.