2008-11-27 / Church News

Young Stroke Patient Spreads Understanding


SOLEBURY, Pa. (AP) - It's impossible to look at Emily Hyland and not smile.

With her crimson-colored hair and soft blue eyes, she is a child who radiates kindness and warmth.

To know the 12-year-old suffered a stroke when she was just 10, enduring countless brain scans, hours of physical, speech and occupational therapy and near blindness in one eye, comes as a shock.

Sitting at her family's kitchen table in Solebury, dressed in lilaccolored pants and a matching jacket, Emily is charming in her innocence and just a little shy.

She remembers some of the events that March day in 2007 when she suddenly got tired while vacationing at an indoor water park in the Poconos and lay down for a nap.

"We were on the waterslide and I got tired,'' said the New Hope-Solebury sixth-grader. "When I woke up I had a bad headache.'' After that, her memory fades.

But Emily's mother, M.J. Bailey, and her stepfather, Lee Bailey, remember every detail of the nightmarish days that followed.

Her inability to walk or see from her left eye, the drive through a snowstorm to Doylestown Hospital, the emergency room at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, the doctor who came out only long enough to tell them Emily had had a stroke.

"We didn't know kids could have strokes,'' said M.J. "It was very scary.''

Hoping to help raise awareness and money for much-needed research into the causes and prevention of strokes, Emily and her family, including her sisters, Megan, 14, and Kelly, 9, headed to Citizen Bank Park earlier this month, joined by 85 friends and neighbors.

The American Heart Association's Start! Heart Walk drew more than 3,000 people and raised $1.1 million, according to Christina Crews, communications director for the organization.

Emily's team all wore shirts made by Megan. They were bright purple, Emily's favorite color.

"She loves it ... it's so uplifting,'' said M.J. Bailey.

Despite the widely held perception that strokes primarily threaten the elderly, they can occur in children, including infants.

According to Dr. Sabrina Smith, assistant professor of neurology and pediatrics at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, one in 4,000 newborns experience strokes. They are rarer in children age 3 to 12, where they occur in about one out of 100,000.

Children's symptoms are much like adults, including sudden weakness on one side of the body, slurring of speech and blurred vision. The warning signs are often missed, however, because parents don't expect a childhood stroke. The signs can also be caused by a wide range of other illnesses.

In Emily' case, her mother thought she had had a seizure, since she was diagnosed with epilepsy when she was 9. Doctors still remain uncertain as to what caused her to have a blood clot in her brain.

Half the children who suffer a stroke are perfectly healthy, said Smith, the other half have serious illnesses. One-half to one-third have some permanent movement problem and a lasting impairment of thinking, learning and concentrating.

In the 18 months since her stroke, Emily has made an amazing recovery.

She's worked hard to learn to read again, since the stroke impaired her vision. Physical therapy has helped restore her sense of balance, although she still has some difficulty.

Deeply proud of her daughter, Bailey said Emily has taught them all about strength and courage.

"She has never once, not once, said, "Why did this happen to me.'''

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