SPIRIT LAKE, Iowa (KTIV) — It’s a common belief that only older people can have strokes, but as with any medical conditions, teenagers can be affected too.
According to the National Stroke Association, stroke remains among the top 10 causes of death in children.
Around 11 in 100,000 children under 18 years old suffer a stroke each year.
Common risk factors in children are different than in adults.
Those risk factors include congenital heart defects, immune disorders and abnormal blood clotting to name a few.
In the early morning hours of December 7th, 2017 then 14-year-old Kristen Kuiper — woke up with pain in her neck and back.
“So I text my mom and she said she’d bring me ibuprofen,” said Kristen.
Kristen got up, went to the bathroom and that’s when she knew something was wrong.
“I couldn’t grip anything, like my hands stopped working so we were like, we need to go to the emergency room,” said Kristen Kuiper.
Kristen’s parents took her to the E.R. in Spirit Lake, Iowa.
Walking into the hospital, Kristen couldn’t keep her head up or move her arms and eventually, her legs stopped work.
Doctors checked out Kristen but didn’t know what was happening to this seemingly healthy teenager.
The doctors called the pediatric unit at Avera Health Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
“They thought it could have been spinal fluid inflammation and so they with her labored breathing and her shallow breathing they said they were going to intubate her,” said Tracy Kuiper.
Kristen was then flown, with her mom, to Sioux Falls to get further testing.
“It was the longest car ride of my life,” said Tracy Kuiper.
Doctors performed an MRI on Kristen and found the clot on her spinal column right at the brain stem where the nerves funnel out of the brain into the spinal cord.
“That’s why it took everything from her from the neck down she it took her breathing, everything away from her for a couple of weeks. She couldn’t move, she was pretty much paralyzed from the neck down for a week,” said Tracy.
Kristen and her family would spend the next four weeks in the hospital as the teenager started to slowly gain movement back — starting with a twitch of her finger, then raising her wrist and eventually breathing on her own.
Kristen’s road to recovery brought the family to the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals in Lincoln, Nebraska.
“When you get there it’s so overwhelming — everyone just kept coming at her, coming at her. I think the second day we were there they had her standing up for 10 seconds and she couldn’t take it,” said Tracy.
For the next 8 weeks, Kristen worked to regain her strength and ability to walk.
Kristen was released from Madonna on February 28th and was able to surprise her church group that meant so much to her.
“Yep, and I went to confirmation that night and it was like normal again,” said Kristen.
Now, at 15 years old, the High School Freshman is on her school’s dance team and in the marching band — making a near full recovery.
“I’m not completely physically better. I still can’t run like I use to or dance, sometimes even walking is hard, but I know it’s getting better,” said Kristen.
Through it all, Kristen and her family say it was their faith in God that kept them going.
“I want to let people know that this stuff is happening and if they’re going through something hard I just want them to know that it’ll be ok. it may not seem like it’s going to be ok, but it will,” said Kristen, “Work hard and never give up.”
Doctors told Kristen’s family that what really helped her recovery was her youth.
Tracy said since she was so young her nerves were able to reconnect and find each other back again.