My name is Marlene Klingeman and in August of 1999 at age 37 I suddenly
suffered a hemorrhagic stroke that nearly ended my life. My story begins
8 years prior to that day when I began to complain to severe migraine
headaches. At that time I was attending university and taking a tough
science major, molecular biology and microbiology, so it was easy to
blame my headaches on stress or tension.
My headaches had all the classic symptoms of a migraine, the aura,
the light sensitivity, nausea, blackouts and the inability to get rid
of the headache with medications. Sleep was the only way to cope. The
headaches never went away - only the level of intensity fluctuated.
There were days I awoke with a full blown headache and nausea but still
had to keep going to make it to my next class or to drive my young daughter
to elementary school. My headaches interfered with every aspects of
my life. I was known as the grumpy person, easily irritated or quick
to lash out. At that time I had recently moved back home to live with
my parents as I was a struggling single mother going back to school.
I saw a doctor for the headaches but migraine medications were often
prescribed, which never worked. My dad on occasions offered to massage
my neck to give me some relief and it did temporarily. Studying had
become a so difficult, it would take me twice as long to capture a concept
because of the constant distrevent of the pain. I had my first MRI
but it showed no signs of abnormalities and no indication of a possible
cause for my headaches.
The headaches became worse. I began to have blackouts. I remember early
one morning I awoke to use the bathroom. I sat down to use the bathroom
but I knew nothing after that point. I had blacked out on the toilet,
fell into the bath tub and hit my head on the ceramic tiles. After regaining
my consciousness, the headache was so excruciating I had to stay in
bed most of the day. The headaches lasted for almost 8 years.
I graduated with my degree in December 2007 and was encouraged by my
fiancé to move with him to El Salvador where he worked for a
Dutch multinational company. I needed a break not so much from my intense
school schedule but from the headaches that I agreed to pack up my daughter
and move with him temporally. I finally remarried the following December
in a beautiful intimate setting in Orlando family with our friends and
family present. That summer, we visited the Caribbean island of St.Vincent,
my place of birth and island hopped many of the Grenadine Islands. During
our vacation, the headaches were more intense than normal but I was
determined to not complain and just focus on my vacation with my h=new
husband and daughter.
August 1999, we returned to El Salvador to begin new school year as
my daughter was set to begin sixth grade. By this time we were beginning
to get a better grasp of the Spanish language and acclimating to life
in El Salvador. I was fortunate enough to make some great friends. Once
the 1999-2000 school year was on session, I took advantage of my time
to learn Spanish with a tutor and get to know more of the country and
how I could assist. I got involved in charities such as CARE and UNICEF
to give of my time in helping others.
day late August 1999, my friends planned a picnic to a park that has
Mayan ruins. As we sat under the huge oak tree, we shared in special
moments of laughter as we ate our picnic lunch. That day I did not have
a headache. I thought to myself how strange I had no headache. I had
grown accustomed to them. That night I went to sleep without a headache.
But it was the calm before the storm that was about to descend on me.
At 3 am in the morning, I suddenly awoke from my sleep feeling as if
someone was shoving a knife in my head. There was an explosion in my
head, I felt the crawling sensation in my head as if blood flowing but
nothing was visible. I screamed out loud to my husband lying beside
me. I got out of bed to make it to the bathroom but began vomiting and
could barely make it due to the dizziness.
My husband rushed me to the hospital where a CT scan confirmed a hemorrhage
in the area of my left cerebellum. My brain was swollen and they needed
to relieve the pressure on the brain. I remained in intensive care in
the hospital in El Salvador for 8 days, in and out of consciousness
until the swelling of the brain had subsided enough to fly to Orlando,
Florida where my parents live. There was still no official diagnosis
of my condition as equipment was not available to perform an angiogram
on me. Once I arrived at Florida Hospital in Orlando, an angiogram confirmed
that I had an AMV that ruptured.
An AVM, arteriovenous malformation is an abnormal mass of blood vessels
that weakens with increased blood flow, which can eventually rupture.
They are very rare and occur in less than 1% of the general population.
I was part of that 1 %. The only option for me was brain surgery. Mine
was a birth defect I was unaware I had and the headaches were signs.
I am sharing my story to encourage those with severe, recurrent headaches
to find a neurologist who can give you a thorough exam to determine
the underlying cause. Because my AVM ruptured I was at a much higher
risk of dying or paralysis. It was a surgical emergency. There was a
titanium plate that was fitted over the area, which gave me much discomfort
over the years and had to have it eventually removed. Today I am a healthy
woman, full of life and enjoy helping others to live fulfilled lives.
Audrey Marlene Lewis