“It’s super important to get the word out because if I can help even one person not have to go through what I had to go through and so many others have had to go through, it would make it all worth it.”
When Kayla Sacco and her husband, Tyler Sacco, left her mom’s house on April 8th of this year, they never would have guessed that Kayla would soon suffer from three strokes at 26 simply from popping her neck.
Not even a minute after driving away, Tyler turned around in the middle of the highway and sped back to Kayla’s mom, Brandy Rivers’, home. She cracked her neck like she has plenty of times before, but this time her right arm went completely numb and she could not speak.
“I cracked my neck to relieve some of the pressure, and when I did that I dissected my vertebral artery in my neck. I immediately felt a sharp pain in my head, and that’s when my arm dropped. My whole right side was paralyzed. The right side of my face was drooping and I was slurring. I knew I was having a stroke, but I couldn’t talk at all,” Kayla said.
After popping her neck, Kayla could not speak and could hardly move, but was completely coherent.
Tyler, Brandy and the EMT and paramedics instantly knew it was a stroke. They were running around trying to keep her awake, and Kayla just kept trying to ask for her phone so she could let them know she was alert.
“I knew I was coherent. And I knew everything that was going on, but I just couldn’t say it. I wanted them to know I am in my head. Speak to me,” Kayla said.
Since she could not move her mouth, she finally was able to sign in ASL with her left hand “phone” and then typed the below message which is meant to say, “I’m okay. I’m having a stroke.”
She was rushed to Our Lady of the Lake Hospital, given medicine to treat the stroke and was immediately operated on.
A few hours later, Kayla had another stroke and was rushed back to the operating room where the doctors had to remove a clot that developed in the exact same spot.
A week later, she was sent to the Baton Rouge Rehabilitation Hospital where she suffered her third and worst stroke.
“My third stroke, the part of my brain that was affected, caused “locked-in-syndrome,” where I completely had no control over my body except for being able to move my eyes. I would not wish that on my worst enemy,” Kayla emotionally explained.
After facing three strokes that she says many die from, Kayla is on the road to an almost complete recovery.
“They aren’t sure why I healed so quickly. I had three strokes that normally are fatal and they can’t really give us an answer of why. That’s been really a hard emotional part of my journey. It was a lot of why me, why did I survive not one but three strokes,” Kayla said.
Due to her family and the hospital’s quick action, Kayla will have what some consider a “miracle recovery,” but many are not as fortunate.
“Me and my husband recognizing that I was indeed having a stroke and getting to the hospital, the clot busting medication, and having surgery, all that saved me,” she tearfully said.
Some will never be the same again because their strokes were not as noticeable.
Kayla described people she went through rehab with and who are in her stroke support group who were younger than her or only had one stroke, but they thought it was just a headache so they slept it off and missed the window for the clot busting medication and suffered permanent brain damage.
“It’s super important to get the word out because if I can help even one person not have to go through what I had to go through and so many others have had to go through, it would make it all worth it,” she said.
Strokes can affect anyone at any age and in Kayla’s instance, can be triggered by something as mundane as popping her neck.
The signs can be almost completely unnoticeable, some only have a headache or feel a bit confused. That is why she says it is so important to know the signs.
She said, “That was not even on my radar. It was not even thought of until it happens to you and it’s like ‘wow, we wish this was out there more, that we knew more about this’.”
Even though she has had a remarkable recovery, she still had to overcome an incredibly difficult battle emotionally and physically all from popping her neck.
“When I first began was probably the hardest. I wasn’t walking yet. I had no range of motion. Literally if I needed to get out of bed for any reason, be it to change my clothes or use the bathroom, I had to call a nurse in to help me. I was wheelchair bound for a couple of months. To be completely dependent on someone is kind of a gut punch,” she said.
She had to learn every basic skills all over again. She says Baton Rouge Rehab was “vital” in her recovery, and they even let her “baby,” her dog, visit her.
“Just like a baby learns, it’s the same mechanism once you’ve had a stroke. You have to build those skills, you can’t jump right back in to learning how to walk. You have to rebuild your core strength, then you can be on hands and knees and then learning to stand up in the zero gravity vest,” she said.
Her husband and mother never left her side for weeks in the hospital and throughout rehab. Her grandmother was even able to move in with her and her husband so he could return to work.
She describes her situation as “ideal,” whereas many have to make this journey alone and can fall into depression and hopelessness.
“Most families are losing an income when a spouse has a stroke and the other spouse had to continue working to make ends meet. Patients have to sleep alone or attend rehab alone. It’s a very scary time, and it can make or break you,” she said.
Around seven months after suffering three fatal strokes from popping her neck, Kayla has returned to work at Blue Bridge ASL Academy and was even able to meet the paramedic and EMT who saved her live.
She still suffers from exhaustion and even had to relearn ASL due to the short-term memory loss, but she is grateful for the place she in is today.
The American Heart Association visited her stroke support group to hear their stories and even asked Kayla to be a keynote speaker for their Go Red for Women Gala.
She hopes everything she has gone through can help others pick up the early signs of a stroke so no one will have to go through what she has endured.