Starting October 25 of 2011, "InfertilityMom," 39-year-old Jennifer Saake (founder of Hannah's Prayer Ministries), experienced 6 strokes, all due to vertebral dissection at a chiropractic office. The largest two strokes were brain stem and cerebellum bleeds. Jenni remained hospitalized until nearly Christmas and was not expected to live (near death experience) nor recover, but if she even survived, she was slated to live out her days in a nursing home or, best case, to maybe come home but wheelchair-bound and needing 24-hour care (please read more and watch short video). Jenni is now walking (with a cane or wheeled walker), has recovered much eye-sight, some hearing, partial use of her hands, cares for most of her own personal/toiletry needs, and is currently writing three books, maintains multiple blogs, and stays active on both Facebook and Pinterest. Near the five-year recovery mark, Jenni has renewed her pre-stroke excitement about the unique Lilla Rose hair Flexi eight jewelry she sells and has finally regained enough hand/arm function to regularly use! (The biggest ongoing losses at the 4 1/2-year point of recovery are left-side nerve pain, inability to drive, loss of homeschool teaching capability, significant sound processing issues (often triggering nausea), and some profound physical ability limitations such as a limp, balance challenges, clumsy use of right hand and only large motor function in left hand.) Here is her resume.

Since Jenni's chiropractor carried no insurance and moved out of the country soon after the accident (thus avoiding any legal or financial consequences), if you would like to help contribute to the Saake (pronounced like the two small words, say and key) family's massive financial needs (medical expenses alone are estimated to cost between $1- and $1.5- Million in Jenni's lifetime), please visit Jennifer Saake's Stroke Survivor GoFundMe Page. (This support information has been added in direct response to several reader requests.) The Saakes sincerely thank you for your prayers and if God prompts and equipts you to send any monetary assistance as well, this is a significant added blessing.

Jenni is clinging to God's grace through the entire experience. Here is her unfolding story, documented in her own words (typing with only her right hand), as she perceives it happening in real time, messy, honest and to the glory of God...

Friday, January 30, 2015

39 Month Give-Away

My new hat :)
Almost 1/12th of the way through a new year already! I am happy to report I missed my 39 month anniversary, I didn't even realize it until today, a full five days late! My friend, Becky, shared that this week marked 13 years since the car accident that nearly took her life and left her with traumatic brain injury. She has one of my biggest sources of encouragement back in the hospital and said she believes God left her here to encourage others. I told her I am one of the ones she is here to encourage. So thankful!


My blogs, one by one, are being transitioned to my own domain. I want to get all the others moved over first, work out some glitches, then announce the address here to unveil the new central location when I'm ready to move Stroke Of Grace too. Just getting the first blog transferred has been challenging, a week and a half and we still aren't there yet. So I don't know how "soon" all these changes will take place (I was hoping to have everything done and working well before the end of the month, but that does not look like it is going to happen!), just giving you fair warning that this is the plan and, Lord willing, there could be an announcement here any day now. Your prayers for the transition process are appreciated.

Because of this transition, I do not want to post anything new on the blog we are in the process of working on moving, so though not stroke-related, today I would like to share a little book review and give away. A comment in the comments section (with a working email address so I may contact you for your mailing address if you win) will count as your entry! (Giveaways are only valid in US & Canada.) Facebook, Twitter and other social media shares with #marriagetogether are appreciated too (but won't increase your odds of winning). The winner will be selected around noon (Pacific) this Tuesday, Feb 3, 2015 and have 24 hours to reply to my email before I need to select a replacement winner.

Team Us: Marriage Together offers couples practical ways to cultivate and strengthen unity in their marriages. Author Ashleigh Slater shares from her own marriage as she presents couples with realistic ideas on how to foster cooperation, deepen commitment, and exercise grace on a daily basis.


About the book:
176 pages / Forward by Dr. Gary Chapman (author of 5 Love Languages)

What are you agreeing to when you say “I do”? When a couple promises “I do,” they agree to more than just a shared last name, a joint bank account, and no more dateless nights. This husband and wife duo forms a new team. “Life together” becomes their mantra. Nothing can come between them. At least, that’s the plan. But then real life sets in. With it come disappointments and frustrations. If the couple isn’t intentional in their day-to-day interactions, that once enthusiastic “we” can slowly revert to “you” and “me.” Before long, the couple’s left wondering what happened to their team spirit. 
 “Finishing your marriage story well is definitely within your reach, no matter what your history tells you.”
Jenni's Thoughts: I enjoyed the light-hearted, honest way Ashileigh Slater tacked some real marriage issues. I especially loved the way she used and explained a little-know sporting event to get this non-sports-loving-gal into the "team spirit" theme of the book. Enjoyable read to add to my marriage tool box. Want your own copy? I'm giving one away, so be sure to leave a comment!
"Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.
 Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway. If you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.”



Back to Strokie Stuff:
After a solid week of Central Pain Syndrome (CPS) flared up so badly I could accomplish next to nothing, pretty much only sit in my chair and grit my teeth, I am so very happy to say that it has now been 48 hours for me without much in the way of extraordinary body pain. I had "normal" flu-like aches with a fever yesterday morning and actually giggled and thought, "Oh, that's what "bad pain" is supposed to feel like!" While flu-like pain is accompanied by a limb heaviness and fatigue that I had always believed to be a part of a pain package (it is not, that is the virus or infection itself, I would guess, as much more intense pain can be experienced with the body-zapping fatigue!), the pain itself ranks only about a 6 on my pain scale, truly laughable after the week I had just endured.


As you my recall, I shared last week that our family doctor died of a sudden heart attack last week. :( A huge praise is that God has already opened doors for a new family doctor for us all. We get a group, family appointment to get established Feb. 20! It does nothing about the heartbreak of loosing a friend and amazing, long-time care provider, but what a blessing to have the "now what?" question answered about personal medical care!


Because my blogs are in transition right now, I will share here an update I would normally have posted over at InfertilityMom, something I wrote for a select few prayer warriors last night:
I'm so in awe! While R. is still very sick (3rd full day throwing up, on top of horrid bed-bound cold since Monday) her wrist that was broken nearly 10 months ago and has continued in anguishing pain despite several x-rays, scans, an MRI, therapy and 5 doctors, really upped the pain game this evening. I felt totally helpless, had given her all the medication I could, and the pain just kept building. She was so frustrated she banged her arm into the wall (apparently pretty hard!), felt something "slip" inside and has full use of her hand back and almost no pain now. Praise God! She hasn't used it for most of a year, so the hand is weak and she will have to retrain herself to remember to use it, but just wow! Praise God! She is just glowing with joy and relief, even in the midst of illness.
I will never hear the phrase "hit the wall,"as a term of exasperation, quite the same way again! LOL Her hand continues to feel wonderful this morning, she is using it in ways she has not been able to in nearly a year, and she did not wake up asking for pain medication for the first morning since she fell and apparently dislodged something just enough to cause so much pain (but not enough to show on any scan).  She must have a really high pain threshold too, because the things she was able to push herself to accomplish this past year, even while trying to guard that hand as much as possible, have been pretty amazing! She is the bravest young lady I know.



As far as her "bug" we changed antibiotics from liquid suspension type to pill.  It seems she was reacting to the coloring and/or flavoring in the suspension liquid itself.  She was NOT handling her antibiotic well. Dizzy, lightheaded, so nauseous she feels like the slightest movement (sitting up in bed) would (and often did) make her throw up again. Today she has more energy, hasn't thrown up since midnight, and is more talkative than she has been all week. I'm encouraged. [ETA: Before I got this posted, she did throw up in the shower   but after asking questions,I learned she has had a migraine since Monday, along with everything else! (Poor kid!) When she talked headache, I thought she was referring to pain from her sinus infection. She IS feeling improvement with the rest, but light and sound sensitivity are still triggering vomiting.] After a long, hard week, it seems she has finally taken a turn towards improvement! My boys (and hubby) are all on antibiotics too, one having missed school two days this week, one having missed 4. I think I'm going to tackle changing sheets on at least two beds today - can't imagine even thinking of trying that a year ago! I have a little cough and congestion, was feverish yesterday, but so far seem the least hard-hit of anyone in the family, with the uptake in CPS being my very most disabling symptom.



I was recently asked if there is anything in my world that was NOT impacted by strokes. After some thinking, here's what I came up with.
 I've been trying to think of anything. Every one of my 5 senses was significantly impacted, though have re-gained almost all sight, some hearing, most of my taste buds, some feeling in my body, etc. My marriage nearly crumbled after 19 years, but God is holding us together and we are slowly healing. I still can't drive (it's been just over 3 years) so my mom and I have become very close as she has become my designated driver, getting me to the gym 2x a week and all my doctor's appointments. My kids, whom I had homeschooled before strokes, lived away from home for 8 months and are now home but in traditional classrooms. My faith in God took a beating but ultimately proved itself sure. I've always been strong-willed, but determination came on very fiercely in therapy. So no, I can't think of one single thing in my life not changed by stroke, some for the worse, most ultimately for the better.
Oh, I did think of one area, for me, that had surprisingly little impact, as I expected there would be so much more! My face. Yes, I had initial droop and still a little weakness, but rather than my face "looking stroked", if anything it looked like I had taken botox injections ONLY on the stroked side, as that eye was WIDE open and no wrinkles for a couple of years! Even that is getting less and less preceivable now. I had seen pictures that had me expecting pretty severe and long-lasting (permanent?) facial droop, but never really experienced this too much! I now have one pretty strong wrinkle line about an inch above my left eyebrow that was not there at all before, I think because that's where the "botox injection" paralysis stops and normal facial tone begins to break in again.

 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Stats, Tips and God!

Concerning the alarming phone call I mentioned in Wednesday's post. My mom (Betty Camp)'s words best sum up what I are able to share yet:
"Dealing with and mourning the death of our wonderful family doctor over the weekend. She cared for 5 Saakes and 2 Camps wonderfully. We will miss her. It is almost like losing a family member. She was also our friend. We went by the office yesterday and cried with some of the staff."
It has been a really rough week. (I did finally shed about 3 small tears after I went to bed last night, but it is beyond frustating to be the only dry eye in a group of mourners, like I was yesterday. I so need the physical release of some tears here!) I easily get panicked when I think of where this leaves us medically, but dozens of times a day, God reminds me to trust His plan with that.


Today is I high pain day. I just HURT. Don't know if it is heavy-hearted grief that has the physical pain revved up or what. That would be my guess. Canceled Bible study this morning and slept until almost 10. Long afternoon and evening ahead, so resting while I can.


Congratulations to our oldest and the Reno Coral Academy of Sciences, Metal Falcons team for winning their FTC robotics competition last night. Now on to Las Vegas next month!

Joshua is to our far right, back row.
This afternoon my mom (who just started driving again last week - yippie!) and I go help our youngest and their team fisish up preparations for his Lego competition on Saturday, then head to our daughter's campus for her honor society induction. These kids just amaze me!


A compilation of stroke statistics posted today on one of the stroke groups I participate in:
Stroke kills almost 130,000 Americans each year—that's 1 out of every 19 deaths. On average, one American dies from stroke every 4 minutes.
Every year, more than 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke. About 610,000 of these are first or new strokes34% of those 795,000 US strokes occur to people under the age of 65. Only about 2-3 % are pediatric strokes so that leaves about 32% 18-65.
One of my all-time favorite phrases!
I came across an old post of mine from November, 2013. It hit me how very glad I am to have this journey documented! I had already forgotten several of these details! What blessings in my husband's response to my "3rd stroke" (what I would later learn hadn't been one of my strokes at all, rather Paroxysmal Sympathetic Hyperactivity or a "Sympathetic Storm"), God's grace in sending a pastor friend to pray just when I was giving up the fight, and the ongoing uplifting of your prayers and tangible acts of love through prayers, quilts and gifts that helped pull me through the very hardest days. If you have been part of my story, even the "smallest" or seemingly least significant parts, thank you for praying me through. I can never express that adequately enough.


I am involved in very many different online stroke support and/or informational groups. One of my personal favorites, an imaginary "coffee house" where strokies gather to chat about anything and everything stoke-related, is led by a stroke-survivor-become-friend named Amanda Breckenride. Amanda has an amazing story of God's grace after her aneurysm rupture and strokes at age 35, requiring life flight in 2001. A nurse, with a beautiful voice, who wrote her own songs, Amanda was left unable to walk, talk clearly or sing. She has created an entire line of YouTube videos from one stroke survivor to encourage others along the journey of reclaiming what was lost. Here is one such video. I tried this one (intentionally recorded sideways to help us better focus on the specific oral training) this morning and could hit about 3/4 of the notes with accuracy, but had next to no breath support nor melodic fluidity between notes. To think where Amanda has come from and hear how far she has come now, I am hopeful for continued improvement in this area as well.

Amanda Breckenridge
 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

His Dealings

Fear not because you sometimes walk in darkness and have no light. Remember that you cannot understand the mind of the Lord, nor the meaning of His dealings. But when the clouds compass you about, believe in God as Daniel did; trust in the Lord Jesus at all times; sing to Him in the dungeon, as Paul and Silas; sing to Him even in the fire, as the three Hebrew children did; be very sure, he who believes shall never be ashamed. 
- J. C. Ryle, as quoted in the book Joni & Ken: An Untold Love Story, by Ken and Joni Eareckson Tada with Larry Libby, as the opening quote to the chapter entitled Samurai.

Remember when I was contemplating "sing" as my "word of the year" for 2015. I'm sticking with that choice. Did you notice the two sing commands in the quote above?

"Hope is like a bird that senses the dawn and carefully starts to sing while it is still dark." - author unknown
Hope sings!
What a busy month , start to our year! We have both 9th and 12th birthdays coming to our house within the next week, then hosting spend-the-night parties here each of the next two consecutive weekends. I have to say, our 15-year-old's pizza hang-out with a few friends last month was much less stressful! But we only bless our kids with parties every three years, so it is rather special to enjoy their party years, we just hadn't counted on them being born 3 years apart, within a 5 1/2 week time span (with Christmas in the middle) when we set up this system! They are each given a modest budget and a few guidelines (an overnight can have half as many invited guests as the number of years they are celebrating or a 2-hour daylight party may have as many non-family guests as their age) and then the catalog and website searching and list making and figuring (and re-figuring and re-figuring) of costs and ordering begins.


Our oldest has been engrossed in preparing for a robotics competition on Wednesday. His team is currently ranked #2 in the region. He hopes to take one of the top two regional spots and get to go to Vegas early next month. Colleges are starting to send several envelops per week (he's a sophomore) and he has already received invitations to two difference elite summer programs (one back at Harvard with astronaut Bud Aldrich!) that we are waiting to see if God plans to send him to either by clearly opening doors and supplying the funding.


Our nearly-12-year-old has had a rough go lately. On the good news front, at the beginning of the new semester, she came to us and asked to see if the school would test her and allow her to move to the honors class for this second half of six grade. Even though she had never been introduced to some of the advanced material covered in honors, she passed the screening test with flying colors and was moved into the honors program the very next day. We are excited for her and very proud of her initiative.

 Not only all there all the "fun" mood and hormonal adjustments of pre-teen body changes to adjust to, there has also been a lot of medical investigation going on in her world, the most recent focus on a wrist that was broken last spring and still causing much pain and hand dysfunction, even now. After an agonizingly exhausting round of testing last week, including some missed school and some major anxiety for all involved, we remain without answers nor a clear plan of action. Your prayers for wisdom for Rick and I and all involved in her care is greatly appreciated!


After a really tough day on Wednesday, she came home and collapsed into bed. With the drugs the doctor have given, she was asleep (for the night) by 4pm and pretty much slept on through until 1 the next afternoon, back asleep by about 5 that night. I KNEW I was weary and stressed by the ordeal too, I just didn't know how much until Rick came home from work and exclaimed, "What did you do to your arm today?" It was only then that I realized I had contorted my primarily stroked arm up into a scary-looking contracture against my body. I was so exhausted, so physically impacted by stress, that I went to bed at 6:45 that evening! I had likely been holding my arm too tightly against my body  for hours as it was SORE by the time Rick found it and I tried to straighten it back out.

It was the next afternoon before I had re-established fairly good large-motor function and range of motion again. I'm doing better now, but the arm still is quick to contract if I'm not being very aware and careful to force it down to my side. Minor things (well, not so minor, in that they have only been possible the last year or so) like holding (not manipulating the pages to turn, just holding that side) a book, have become stressful and very painful once again. I am going to fight to keep the hard-won function I have in this arm, but the dramatic changes for the worse, in the past five days, have been startling and frustration. For both my daughter's unresolved, seemingly unanswerable pain, and for my own, I am continually reminding myself to trust in God who has this all figured out!


Our little man! What can I say about this amazing kid? Here's what I posted to Facebook last week: "Proud of our little Bear. Yesterday, he attended baptism class at church (you are going to HAVE to explain the Superman logo analogy to these two clueless parents, Pastor Matt!), today he got a 4.0 quarterly award at school, Sunday he will be baptized, Friday he will turn 9 years old, then next Saturday compete in a LEGO competition." It was so wonderful to see him in that baptismal with his dad by his side on Sunday morning! He has been asking for years, but we told him he had to wait until we felt he could really understand the public commitment and declaration he was making.


Today, Jan. 20, has been deemed International Day of Acceptance! Please visit the linked website to learn more about this movement.


In December I had the honor of filming about 2 1/2 hours of interviews and being shadowed at water therapy. This three-minute clip offers a tiny glimpse of my story. They didn't include any information I shared on stroke statistics, young stroke, only the briefest mention that my strokes happened at a chiropractic office (none of the chiropractic stroke information, concerns or stats), or about how the Lord is my source of strength, but what they did choose to compile, I think they presented beautifully.

I just received a really hard phone call with bad news. I'll share more when I am free to do so...

Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. - 1 Chronicles 16:9



Saturday, January 3, 2015

Great Lengths

I have dreaded taking showers this past year. Sometimes the pressure of the water against my skin, especially my head, outright hurts. Sometimes I just get tired of the whole inability-to-stand-for-a-shower thing. Often I am frustrated over the pathetic aid offered by my left hand (though very thankful it can attempt to help at all and it has been awhile since I punched myself hard with that unwieldy club, though I did manage to poke myself in the eye when trying to touch my nose a few weeks ago).

Hair, late October, 2014
Usually, my reluctance to shower has progressively become my hair though, not just care while showering, but the dread of the process after the shower. It leave my discouraged, defeated, frustrated, exhausted. My close friends laugh as I often can put off my "early morning" shower until afternoon...or evening...or even push it out an extra day or two. I dread showers just that much!

French braid attempted selfie.
Spending 2-3 hours per week in a pool, my hair had grown quite damaged. The ends were like velcro. It was 30-60 minutes for my mom or Kathy to brush the tangles out for me, and to the point I simply COULD NOT de-tangle it myself anymore, even if I carefully braided it before a swim. Much too reminiscent of the early months post-stroke, when everything had to be done for me. The hair damage was severe enough that, even once untangled, it would be knotted up again, several times yet that day.


You may know how much long hair has been important to me through the years, first as a symbol of defiance against more than two decades of chronic illness, and now a visible measure of my own stroke recovery. My lengths were sacrificed in the hospital, thus the new growth treasured and very sentimental. But between the chemical damage of nearly 2 1/2 years of regular water therapy and, I would think, residual damage of all those strong medications I was on clear back in the hospital and the daily regiment that, while dwindling, remains to this day, I finally had to come to the realization that some length had to go if I were ever to regain my independence in basic hair care again.


Fast forward to today and I must tell youthe last two showers I have taken, I actually didn't dread the process! In fact, on Thursday, my husband asked me if I "enjoyed" my first shower after a hair cut and, after a moment's hesitation, I nodded my head and realized it had actually been pretty good. Great way to start a fresh year!


The difference? I had 4 (sides) to 6 (back) inches of length cut off this week! It still come to my shoulders, but I found it SO much easier to manage myself. Still not "easy" but actually something I could actually accomplish! And my hair feels so much softer and less tangley too!  Praise the Lord!



 

For those who have asked, I still don't have my cell phone correctly talking to my lap top, so couldn't retrieve pictures off my cell phone until my sweet 11-year-old saved the day by downloading them (in some cases actually taking pictures on her cell phone of the pictures on my cell phone) onto a flash drive from her computer and transferring them over here for me. So, scattered throughout this post, you will find selfies of my french braiding (taken not quite a month ago, when my hair was longer - still need to get a picture of shorter hair in a french braid - something I found much easier to accomplish now that the length is more manageable, but still only if I am in a dark, quiet room with no other mental distractions), then at Wednesday's hair cut and today after I curled it (all my myself)!

It takes a while, but I can now manage steam rollers all by myself, mostly one-handed!
An odd discovery this week is the realization that none of the people closest to my every day life, Rick, my mom, Kathy, realized my world still is constantly spinning, typically in a counter-clockwise direction. To be sure, it is very slow and mild now (except when I move my head too quickly or at a wrong angle like attempting to look back over my own shoulder where my vision is still quite badly doubled, or when I very first sit up in bed and stumble to the restroom each morning) but it is always there, none-the-less. The initially days and weeks and months felt like a wild bucking bronco or the craziest roller coaster ride you have ever imagined.

New hair cut.
I remember just trying to sit upright on the toilet during my second week in the hospital, having to be held upright by both a nurse and my husband, yet still clinging to the hand rail for dear life! It is nothing like that now, more of a very slow, yet constantly-moving, merry-go-round or carousel ride . As long as my world just spins sideways and my horizon doesn't jump vertically (as it did repeatedly and rapidly flip over my head with each stroke) I don't get too uptight about this constant, dizzy motion anymore. I guess it is just so much my "normal" now that I rarely think to mention it, but was surprised to learn that even those closest to me had no idea this remains an issue, so I figured you might not either.

December, 2011. Where I started from in regrowing.
I'm thinking my "word of the year" for 2015 might become SING. I'm still praying, but so far, that's what I'm thinking. Very literal implications too, as I do not yet have my full singing voice back, but it is SO much stronger and has some range, unlike this time 3, even 2, years ago.


O my soul, come, praise the Eternal with all that is in me—body, emotions,mind, and will—every part of who I am— praise His holy name.O my soul, come, praise the Eternal;sing a song from a grateful heart;sing and never forget all the good He has done.’Psalm 103:1-2 VOICE

 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2015

First day of the New Year. A collection of significant pictures I have collected from Facebook:





This quote totally leaves out my very Source of Hope, Jesus Christ, the restorer of joy, the fuel that drives my attitude, but in as far as this quote goes, I love it.


We celebrated "East Coast New Year" then went to bed shortly after 9 last night. :)





'He does not crush the weak, or quench the smallest hope; He will end all conflict with his final victory, And his name shall be the hope of all the world.' Matt 12:20-22 TLB
P.S. This blog may be moving to my own domain in weeks to come. I'll do my best to keep you posted with a forwarding link. If you loose me, searches like "StrokeOfGrace" or just my name, "Jennifer Saake," should help you find me again! Thanks for coming along for the ride. :)