Katie Kalina was a young mother and pregnant with her third when she had a terrible headache thought to be a pregnancy induced migraine that wouldn’t go away. The pain continued into the next day, so Katie and Matt, her husband, searched for nasal spray medicine, thinking it was just a nasal congestion headache.
With no signs of improvement, Katie went to see her OB/GYN. Her doctor thought she had a sinus infection, and told her that they would perform an MRI if her symptoms didn’t improve. Katie started to feel better, but two days later the pain came back with rage.
“It was so bad I was in tears… And what was weird was that it was only on one side,” Katie said. “The next morning when I woke up I couldn’t move anything on my left side. I woke up Matt (who’s a registered nurse) and he immediately rushed me to the ER.”
After performing an MRI, the doctors found Katie was having a hemorrhagic stroke. With her being pregnant and having a stroke, she was flown to a hospital in Houston. They initially started her on blood thinners, but her brain continued to swell, so at the urging of her husband, they did a craniotomy to remove a section of her skull to reduce swelling. Katie had to wear a helmet to protect her head and stayed in Houston for three weeks in ICU and on the stroke unit.
Katie was able to return home for inpatient therapy to do physical, occupational, and speech therapy, five days a week. Fortunately, she was able to learn how to walk again and slowly regain movement in her left arm.
“As for physical therapy, I started in a wheelchair, barely even able to lift my head, and by the time I left rehab, I was using a single cane,” Katie exclaims. “My growing belly certainly made therapy more challenging, but was also a constant reminder of who and what I was working for. My motivation was the desire to be able to hug my kids and hold my newborn baby.”
For most moms, being pregnant with your third child means you are so busy chasing the other two that you hardly notice the kicks and wiggles of the child growing inside of you. Katie feels lucky to have that special time with Leander. “I literally had no choice, but to lay there and feel him move or hiccup. They monitored him twice a day for 30 minutes, so I got to hear his sweet heartbeat and pray over his sweet soul. I was always preparing myself that something could go wrong during birth or that he would have some kind of problem, but he came out as a perfect baby. I think he is the biggest miracle and I cannot wait to see what the Lord has planned for his life.”
After a successfully delivery, she had to wait eight weeks after Leander was born to take off the helmet. This was when the postpartum risk for clotting was reduced enough to have the cranioplasty surgery.
All the little things that you don’t think twice about became immensely difficult for Katie. The occupational therapist would work on functional skills Katie wanted to regain work on. Katie didn’t stop there though, setting a goal that that she wanted to complete a 5k one year after the stroke. So Matt and Katie trained for it and in March 2015, she went back to Houston to cross the finish line.
It was a great feeling and such a testament to God’s mercy and grace, that I was able to complete it. We had a big party with our families afterwards,” Katie said. “I still struggle with fine motor movements in my left hand, but I’m able to do everything I need to do. I can drive, cook dinner, fix my daughter’s hair, and do laundry.”
After many tests, the doctors determined Katie’s stroke was solely pregnancy induced and have been advised not to have any more children. “They trust God completely with our fertility and have decided, after much prayer, to continue using natural family planning as a means to avoid pregnancy. Matt and I are convinced that God is not done growing our family. We are open to adoption if that is what He is calling us to do or if I were to get pregnant again, we completely trust God and His plan.”
Katie wants stroke survivors to know, “You can’t give yourself a plateau or a stopping point…you just have to focus on the positive.” About giving up, Katie advises, “If you let yourself get into that mindset, it’s really hard to come out of.”