Dr. Shaiba Ansari-Ali's four-year cough led to a torn artery in her neck.
Ansari-Ali's paramedics and family thought she was unconscious during her stroke, but she was aware of everything.
85% of people who have a vertebral artery dissection die before they make it to the hospital.
After four years of constant coughing, Dr. Shaiba Ansari-Ali, a rheumatologist at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital, said she had a stroke.
Ansari-Ali told TODAY that in July 2016, the room started to spin in all directions. "It was like being on the worst roller coaster ever," the doctor said. She then told her husband, "The room is spinning. I'm very dizzy."
After going to the bathroom and throwing up, Ansari-Ali laid motionless on the ground. Her husband thought she was unconscious, but she was awake and aware of everything going on -a condition called locked-in syndrome.
She suspected she was having a stroke, but said she wasn't afraid, and even had a sense of humor throughout the whole ordeal.
After she received a blood thinner in the emergency room, Ansari-Ali said she could move again.
A vertebral artery dissection is caused by trauma to the neck
Ansari-Ali's vertebral artery, an artery in the neck, was under a lot of stress from her chronic cough. "That area just keeps getting pummeled," Ansari-Ali told Today.
After years of repeated hits, Ansari-Ali's vertebral artery ripped.
The tear impaired blood flow to her brain, ultimately causing a stroke. "About 85% of people who have this type of stroke die before they get to the hospital," Ansari-Ali said.
Ansari-Ali is optimistic for her patients because of her own recovery
For the following two months after her stroke, Ansari-Ali did rehab at the hospital, then at her home. Her cough that led to her stroke is now under control, and she has to take blood thinners for the rest of her life.
Almost five years later, Ansari-Ali said she has some lingering effects from the stroke. "When I get tired, my speech becomes garbled, I'll start to limp a little and I'll choke on foods more because I can't swallow very well."
But she remains optimistic for her patients, as she said her own doctors' optimism was key to her recovery.
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