Most 20-year-olds plan to spend their 21st birthday celebrating with their friends and family. Senior secondary education and history major Kaitlin Holton was no different, intending to spend her 21st birthday at Olive Garden over endless breadsticks with her family. Instead, Holton spent her 21st birthday, and the week following, at Franciscan St. Francis Health recovering from a stroke.
On February 17, the night before her 21st birthday, Holton stood in her bathroom, finishing the last touches of her mascara when suddenly her left arm went numb.
“I was touching my face and I thought somebody else was touching me,” Holton said. “I looked down and it was my own arm. And I had no feeling in it.”
But because she gained feeling back in her arm within 15 minutes, she brushed the numbness off as a pinched nerve and continued with her plans.
When Holton arrived at Texas Roadhouse she checked her makeup in the mirror on her visor. That is when she realized the left side of her face was drooping. She knew this was a sign of a stroke. Holton tried to tell her friends, but she could not form proper words. But, once again, her symptoms resolved within ten minutes.
“I told my friends, ‘I think I just had a stroke,’” Holton said. “And my mind went, ‘I didn’t have a stroke, I’m almost 21.’”
The next day, while opening presents with her family, Holton said she casually mentioned her symptoms from the day before to her mother, Kimberly Holton. That is when her mother took her to the emergency room. Because of her nursing background, Kimberly said she recognized the signs and had a feeling that Holton had had a stroke. Even though it made sense from a nursing perspective, Kimberly said she was still in disbelief.
“It was shock too, because you obviously don’t expect your young daughter to have a stroke,” Kimberly said.
After spending hours in the emergency room and running several tests, Holton’s doctors discovered two spots on her right frontal cortex. Doctors confirmed that, despite her youth, Holton had suffered from a stroke due to an underlying heart condition. The condition does not cause a stroke, according to Holton, but it does heighten the risk of having one. Six days after her initial symptoms began, Holton said she received surgery that dramatically lessens the risk of her having another stroke.
From family praying with her before her surgery to friends visiting her in the hospital, Holton said, although it seems silly, having a stroke was one of the best parts of her year because of the support.
“I always knew I had it [support], but to actually see it physically all around me in the most difficult time, up to this point, was just beyond words,” Holton said. “It gives me tingles just thinking about it. I love all of them so much and to have them sit around and pray for me and with me… that’s the only thing that would calm me down in the situation. That’s when I knew that I am a firm believer that God will never give me anything that I can’t handle.”
Not only was she receiving support from her family, but Holton said the University of Indianapolis was also a good support system for her. Because Holton spent a week in the hospital, and another week at home recovering, she missed two weeks of school. However, despite missing two weeks of school, Holton said she was determined to power through and catch up on her school work. With the help and understanding from her professors, Holton said that is exactly what she did.
“I felt good with my family supporting me, but I also felt like I was being supported by UIndy at the same time,” Holton said.
Holton said that while her life has continued as normal, her faith has become stronger and her outlook on life has changed. Life is precious, Holton said, but she had not realized just how precious life was until she had a stroke. Kimberly agreed.
“I think it [the situation] just reaffirms that everyday is a blessing,” Kimberly said. “…All my kids are a blessing but her being here is such a blessing… I think its just made me appreciate every single day more.”
Beyond UIndy, Holton said she hopes to spread awareness about the symptoms and signs of a stroke. She strongly encourages others to never ignore their symptoms and to listen to their body. Holton said she believes that it is important for other people to hear her story, so that they know anyone can have a stroke at any time.
Another patient, who was scheduled to have the same surgery as Holton in October reached out to Holton after seeing an article about her in The Indianapolis Star. Holton was able to walk the patient through the procedure from her perspective and talk about what recovery was like as well.
“She told me that I made her feel so much more comfortable about everything and that made me think that things had finally come full circle and that by sharing this story I was able to help one person…. which was my goal,” Holton said. “This story isn’t about me, it’s about awareness.”