Tedy Bruschi and Katie Buteau

Katie Buteau with Tedy Bruschi

By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

As a child, Katie Buteau always woke up early to tune in to the Boston Marathon on TV. Then she’d secure her spot on the route to root for the racers as they came through her hometown of Wellesley. For her, it was like Christmas.

“It has always been a dream to run Boston,” said Buteau. “I stayed put to cheer on the wheelchair racers and all of the other runners until I was losing my voice, my hands were numb and I was finally dragged home.”

Buteau was scheduled to run in the famed 26-mile marathon Monday. Running the race is more than fulfilling a childhood dream for her. It is proof that she could do it despite a crushing medical blow.

Buteau was 25 when she was teaching a fitness class on Labor Day weekend 2013. Halfway through, she couldn’t see. Her left eye, it seemed, was playing tricks on her. What were those huge black spots and flashing lights? She checked the light bulbs. She adjusted her contacts. She decided she must be having a migraine and took an Excedrin.

The next day, the symptoms returned. She couldn’t walk. She couldn’t get her balance. She couldn’t use her right arm. She tried to text her husband, but the message came out gibberish.

So Buteau went to the hospital, where doctors agreed it was probably a migraine, and she went home to wait on MRI results. As her head throbbed, her neck hurt and she couldn’t be around lights, she waited some more. The results showed that she’d had two strokes.

At first, her healthcare team didn’t know why. As they put the pieces together, they theorized that Buteau suffered a right vertebral artery dissection while getting her hair washed at a salon — with her head tipped back against a sink — the day before her first stroke. The small tear in the layers of artery walls in the neck caused two blood clots to break off and travel to her brain, causing two strokes over the next two days.

Studies have shown that treatments involving neck manipulation might be associated with stroke, although they can’t be identified as a certain cause and the incidents are rare. This phenomenon is sometimes called beauty parlor syndrome. Buteau said it took six months for her to feel like herself. She dealt with frequent neck pain and felt constantly vulnerable.

“I was exhausted,” she said. “I was tired when I got home from the hospital. I needed someone with me and I needed someone to help me up the stairs.”

Gradually Buteau got her strength back and the neck pain started to fade. In the meantime, her resolve — and the desire to run the Boston Marathon — began to build.

“I decided I needed to do something harder than hard, and if I could do it, I would trust my body and trust that I would be OK,” she said. “I realized that the ‘harder than hard’ thing had to be the Boston Marathon. When I asked my neurologist about it last summer, she finally gave in.”

Buteau is a member of Tedy’s Team. In 2005, weeks after winning his third Super Bowl, Tedy Bruschi suffered a stroke at 31. His team raises awareness and advocates for survivors. They’ve raised more than $3 million for research and education, and this year’s 33-member team aims to bring in another $500,000 to help fight stroke, the No. 2 killer worldwide and a leading cause of disability.

“This is truly a dream come true,” Buteau said before the race. “I run because I love it, but I also run because others can’t. When I cross that finish line I have to trust that I’m not going to have a stroke and that my body is not going to let me down.”

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