By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

Brianne and CasperIf a job interview was coming up, or maybe a speech in front of a crowd, Brianne Cassidy was a mess for days.

She hardly ate. Or slept. Knowing she’d be the center of attention “totally freaked me out,” she admits.

Then came the 180-degree change in her personality.

She became so confident that she ended a long-term relationship. She uprooted from her childhood home in suburban Seattle and moved to the city, decided she didn’t like it and moved to another suburb. Along the way, she found a new boyfriend; he supported her idea of starting a photography business and she took that risk, something she never would’ve done before.

“I just realized that life is too short,” Cassidy said. “I should do things I enjoy doing and stop worrying about what people think of me – just let it all go and be me.”

It’s a nice coming-of-age story about a young woman taking control, only there’s a cruel twist.

This overhaul came following a stroke that nearly ended her life at age 24.

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On a Saturday in July 2013, Cassidy and friends were hanging out on Puget Sound.

They had a boat connected to two tubes, one that carried two people, another for a solo rider. As the driver turned the boat, tube riders maneuvered across the wake to pick up speed, bumping along for thrills, even if it meant taking the occasional spill.

After several successful runs in the two-person tube, Cassidy hit a bump so hard that it sent her about four feet into the air. She landed on her head and toppled across the water as if doing a cartwheel.

She got back in the tube and even made a few more runs. She was having too much fun to stop. She had a headache, but that was to be expected. She’d been through plenty of crashes before, so there was no reason to think this was any different. She decided to stop after another crash.

Throughout the night, the pain increased in her head and the left side of her neck.

At work on Monday, the vision in her right eye blurred. The tips of the fingers on her right hand were numb.

Fallout from the crash, right? Perhaps even whiplash, she figured. So she tried managing the pain. Relief came for a day or two, but always returned.

About two weeks later, the worst headache yet hit Cassidy while at work. She went home, and the pain continued ratcheting up.

She went to the doctor the next morning. A snag over insurance paying for a CT scan meant a delay of several hours, so she went home to rest. She cuddled up with Casper, her golden retriever, and fell asleep.

About 20 minutes later, Casper jumped up and started running around the room, barking. He never did that.

The noise woke Cassidy and she got up.

Well, she tried to get up.

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Cassidy could barely move. In her panic, she knew to call her mom. Luckily, her cell phone was with her.

“I think something’s wrong with me,” she said. The words came out so garbled that her mom that it was a joke. She quickly realized it wasn’t and said she was on her way. She also called a neighbor to get there right away. When the neighbor arrived, she called 9-1-1 immediately.

Doctors at a nearby hospital diagnosed the stroke and gave her the clot-busting medicine tPA. The facility wasn’t capable of handling her, so they transferred Cassidy to a hospital in Seattle.

Brianne selfie with CasperThe larger facility had doctors trained in a medical procedure that removes a clot from a patient’s brain. They did exactly that on Cassidy.

Within days, she was walking and talking remarkably well for someone who’d been through so much. What she remembers most is the relief of the headache being gone.

“I can’t tell you how great that felt,” she said.

***

Up to that point, Cassidy was like most people in that she thought strokes were something that happened to old people.

Brianne and family

Brianne, Casper and family at their local Heart Walk. She is with her dad, Brian (left, back); brother Blake, and mom, Becky.

Since her recovery, she’s learned that stroke is the No. 5 killer of Americans, and a leading cause of adult disability. And, of course, that a stroke can happen to anybody at any age. This May, she is proud to be taking part in American Stroke Month, spreading awareness about the warning signs and the fact that stroke is largely preventable, treatable and beatable.

She’s a great example because of, well, how ordinary she is.

In addition to launching her photography career, Cassidy works in a wine-tasting room and a brewery. The only lingering issue is that she tires easier than others.

She shares her story whenever she can, including a recent video shot with the doctors and nurses who treated her. Hearing them say things like, “I can’t believe you’re in the shape you are,” and “You’re a celebrity around here,” lets her know just how close she came to not making it.

The fact she’s even taking part in a video – much less starring in one – underscores the change in her personality.

“I think facing your own mortality and dealing with it matured me a lot,” Cassidy said. “I really like myself more now.”

Brianne and boyfriend

Brianne and her boyfriend, Brandon Lindgren

 

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Photos courtesy of Brianne Cassidy

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Send an email to stories@heart.org that’s as brief or as detailed as you’d like.

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Mom’s heart attack made AHA mission personal for staffer