Corinne Bailey is finding her way again after a stroke four years ago
When asked the ages of her daughters, Corinne Bailey pauses and sighs.
“Ahh, numbers are so hard!” says the mom of Olivia, 14, and Violet, 10. And asked to spell her own name, her answer further reveals the lingering effects of a severe stroke she suffered four years ago: “Oh, and sometimes words are even harder!”
Bailey wants the world to know that strokes can—and do—happen at any age. Violet had a stroke right after being born (with no long-term effects), and it happened to Bailey even though she was healthy, fit and just 42 at the time.
She says she doesn’t want anyone—especially women, who she feels are more apt to dismiss things when it comes to their health—to delay going to a hospital if they experience anything like what she endured.
On the last day of a February 2014 vacation in Rangeley with her husband Walt and their girls, Bailey happily skied all morning. A few hours later, as she was driving home to Yarmouth, a “stabbing—oh, my God, like nothing you can imagine” headache hit her.
One minute she was fine, the next in debilitating pain. She asked Olivia to call Walt, who was in another car, to tell him to pull over. They went to a local doctor’s office, and the doctor did a neurological screening.
“I wasn’t having any other symptoms beyond this unbelievably painful headache,” Bailey explains. “And he said, if Advil helps, you’re fine, and if it doesn’t, it could be an aneurysm. I still wonder why I didn’t ask more—maybe the pain was clouding my judgment!—but I left saying ‘OK, I think I’m fine.’ I knew I couldn’t drive, and we were nowhere near Portland, so we got a hotel room, thinking if I could just get a hot shower and lie down, this stabbing pain in my head would go away.”
When they headed out again, though, Bailey started to vomit and couldn’t stop. They bee-lined to Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington, where a CT scan revealed blood in her brain.
“I had an aneurysm rupture. It was a hemorrhagic stroke, which is less common—30 to 40 percent of people who have a rupture like this die.”
Bailey was taken by ambulance to Maine Medical Center in Portland, where surgeons were able to treat her by inserting platinum coils into the aneurysm to keep blood from getting into it. Then it was time to watch and see.
“They were monitoring all the time to make sure I wouldn’t have vasospasms (sudden constrictions of blood vessels that stop blood flow), and a few days later, I did start having them.”
Bailey was given medications to stop the vasospasms and keep her blood pressure high and blood moving. Any exertion would throw that off, so she was confined to bed.
“My husband, parents, sisters were always there, supporting me. The kids had a lot of good support, so they dealt with it very well.”
After about a week of the vasospasms, Bailey’s doctors did an angiogram to put medicine directly into her brain.
“I threw up, passed out, and when I woke up and opened my eyes, they all were looking at me like they were just so happy I was alive. Basically, I had more strokes that took my language away. I couldn’t talk or read or write, and my whole right side of my body was affected. My face was droopy.
“I’ve had to find a different path. That’s been hard to do, and I’m still figuring it out as I go along. But I am figuring it out as I go along.”
“Eventually, the vasospasms finally stopped. The doctors worked really hard to keep me alive. The hard work was then on me.”
After three weeks at Maine Med, she spent a week in a rehab center, getting speech, occupational and physical therapy.
Four years later, Bailey, trained as a speech therapist but not working now, continues painstaking efforts to improve her language abilities. The right side of her body is still affected by the strokes, but “not in a way that keeps me from doing stuff.”
“I’m not as good as I once was with many things, and there are some things I can’t do. I’ve had to work really hard to get my reading and writing back, especially. It’s still challenging. I’ve had to find a different path. That’s been hard to do, and I’m still figuring it out as I go along. But I am figuring it out as I go along!
“I try not to get sad about what I can’t do, because I get to be here for my daughters. I’m lucky that I’m alive.”
Her advice to others after her life-changing experiences is to take action if something strange happens to your body.
“A stroke was so far off my radar, but this wasn’t a normal headache. It was piercing. Just BOOM! If you have symptoms like that, you have to go to the hospital immediately.”
Patricia McCarthy is a longtime writer and editor. She has three daughters, lives in Cape Elizabeth, and also has a photography business (patriciamccarthy.com).