Henrico stroke survivor shares story, raises awareness

Kaitlyn Gemmell credits her dog Maddie for helping her recover from a stroke at age 23

HENRICO, Va. (WRIC) — May is Stroke Awareness Month. Do you know the signs? One Henrico woman is thankful that her mom did.

“My whole life changed in probably ten minutes,” Kaitlyn Gemmell remembers that day in October 2013.

Kaitlyn attended a 70th birthday party for her Nana and then ran a quick errand. Back at her parents’ house, the day took a turn.

“She had said to me, I can’t open the garage door. She was going outside to let her dog out,” recalls Brenda Gemmell, Kaitlyn’s mother. “Obviously she had some hand weakness, and the first thing I saw outside that the complete left side of her face was drooping.”

Brenda, who has worked as a nurse for nearly three decades, took action. She checked her daughter’s grip and how well she could push down with her knees. Kaitlyn’s left side was weak, her speech garbled, her gait unsteady. Brenda had her husband call 911.

“I had an MRI done, and the next morning the doctor came in and told me I did, in fact, have a stroke at 23-years-old,” says Kaitlyn.

She was 23 with none of the risk factors: heart disease, diabetes, smoking and poor diet. Kaitlyn spent three days in the hospital and then took her recovery one day at a time.

She enjoyed going on walks with her dog Maddie who she had adopted just a few weeks before. “I feel she really came to me at a time when I needed her.”

It took Kaitlyn about three months to physically recover. Now armed with that experience, she is working on her Master’s degree in public health. Kaitlyn is motivated to make a difference because she was given a second chance.

“One of the hardest events in my life has made me the best person I can be,” says Kaitlyn.

Kaitlyn’s mom is a nurse, but the American Heart Association makes it easy for anyone to recognize signs of a stroke. Just think of the word “FAST.”

F = facial drooping

A = arm weakness

S = speech difficulty

T = time to call 911 if you have any of a combination of these symptoms

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