Katie Giglio is among the slim 10 percent of people that fully recover from a stroke. At 27 years old, her recovery was never something she expected to share. And although her story may sound like the perfect combination of friends, doctors, drug dosage, timing, and recognition, in reality, it was another combination of things that got her in this gut-wrenching situation that has forever changed her narrative.
In 2015, after a Crossfit Open workout, coined 15.4, she decided to join her friends at their usual spot, La Hacienda Taqueria, for a celebratory meal. Little did she know the familiar 10-minute drive would host a plethora of damage to her near future. Katie recalls only a few vivid details of that moment, but she remembers her head feeling weird as soon as she hit the red light outside the gym. Still in route, she missed the turn and recalculated to the restaurant, pushing aside the discomfort. Arriving in the parking lot and somehow managing to park her car, she began to feel her face droop and her left arm and leg lose feeling. When Katie realized she couldn’t sing along to her car radio, the horrifying reality sank in that something serious was wrong. “I heard my own voice and the words sounding slurred, but I wasn’t sure if I was hearing myself right,” she describes.
While texting a friend she knew wouldn’t understand her, she attempted to convey her inability to move or exit the driver’s seat. Her friend, already in the restaurant, passed the phone to another friend of Katie’s, who happened to be a nurse. Luckily, Melissa Wiley’s specific education – a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and labeled an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP) at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) – prepared her to recognize the typical symptoms and classic indications of a stroke. Wiley’s quick assessment, despite her disbelief, substantially decided Katie’s miraculous outcome.
The emergency responders from the Nashville Fire Department arrived within minutes, however, the normal protocol for Katie’s condition was to be taken to the nearest hospital in order for a doctor to determine a diagnosis, once a stroke is diagnosed, the hospital would then decide how to proceed with treatment. But seeing as the VUMC has the highest qualification of stroke care (Level 1), Wiley explained her position with the center as a neurology nurse practitioner, and strongly advised the EMT to take her to “not the nearest hospital” but to the VUMC in order for Katie to receive a dose of TPA within the 3-hour window.
TPA is also known as tissue plasminogen activator and is a protein involved in the breakdown of blood clots. This drug, administered within the 3-hour window, would reverse the systems caused by a stroke. Katie was awake during the surgery, as required, however, she felt very little. She says, her feeling went away slowly during the process, but “during the surgery, her feeling came back just as slow.”
The surgery and administration of TPA helped to dissipate the blood clot in Katie’s spinal stem and allow the blood to flow freely to the brain again. During a stroke, a blood clot appears to block the blood flow to the brain, usually sitting at the top of the spine, and the brain suffers from a lack of oxygen and various cells begin to die. When brain cells die, multiple abilities controlled by the affected area are lost. But for Katie, the TPA dosage reversed these, otherwise common, inhibiting possibilities. “I went back to the gym after 10 days and one week of that in the hospital,” she recalls.
Katie’s miraculous case was later explained as a result of her on-going stomach issue, known as Ulcerative Colitis. A problem diagnosed in November 2015 that caused inflammation in her colon and flair-ups that caused bleeding. On no medication at the time, the doctors determined this was the perfect storm to lead to a stroke since the inflammation and internal bleeding are root causes for a blood clot.
“I was ready to jump back in immediately,” Katie says, but she quickly learned to approach life at the gym with a different mentality. “I had to slow down and remember what my body just went through,” she explains. She had to rework both sides of the body in order to regain simultaneous function. Her left side felt slower so timing was noticeably off on lifting weights and jumping rope. “I felt the only side effects during Crossfit,” Katie claims. Although, correcting her timing and working her full body at an intensified rate, restored her system for everyday life to go on as normal.
“I’m a better athlete than I’ve ever been,” Katie says. Her diet became a major influence in athletic performance but had to be controlled in order to not trigger flare-ups. She recognizes her food choices were the main contributor in her Ulcerative Colitis causing a stroke. She explains, “the quality of food plays a large role in my routine now and even though I cannot cure it, I have learned I still have some control of what I feel like.”
Katie learned a multitude of lessons that she’ll take away from her recovery story. She says, “Food was the medicine to my recovery and now nutrition is a major passion of mine.” After her stroke, Katie lost weight by simply eating better. It took 9 months to lose 40 pounds, but she has now stabilized her stomach problems and maintained that healthy weight for 2 years. Out of a terrifying experience came positive changes, and Katie’s recovery led to a routine of healthy habits and a life she loves and works hard to preserve.