Real Woman 2022 Jayme Kelly

Even as a nurse, Jayme Kelly didn’t recognize the signs and symptoms of stroke — until she had one at age 29.

Helping people has always appealed to Jayme Kelly, and after being in the hospital for several knee surgeries, she wanted to be a nurse.

“The doctors were great, but they come and see you and then they leave,” Jayme said. “I wanted to follow my patients.”

She did just that at Boston Children’s Hospital, working closely and connecting emotionally with children who have complex medical histories.

“It was my life,” said Jayme, who considers nursing her calling.

But her life was rudely interrupted when she woke up one morning two years ago unable to move her right arm or leg. She assumed she had slept on them wrong. But she fell several times when she tried to get up and move around. Scheduled for a shift at the hospital, she tried to call but failed to correctly enter the password on her phone so many times it locked her out.

When her roommate found her a few hours later, Jayme could only mumble unintelligibly. So her roommate called 911.

“I was freaking out,” Jayme said.

By the time her family arrived at the hospital, Jayme was already in the magnetic resonance imaging machine. As a nurse, she knew the signs and symptoms of stroke. But since she had no known risk factors, it never occurred to her that she was having one.

Later, Jayme learned she had factor V Leiden, a blood clotting disorder. She was also on birth control, which further increases the risk of clotting in people with the condition. Two of her sisters later tested positive for the disorder and took blood thinners during their pregnancies.

Jayme’s stroke resulted in weakness on the right side of her body and numbness in her right hand, making it hard for her to make a fist. She also had difficulty speaking, writing and comprehending language.

Jayme quickly made strides in her physical recovery through therapy, working out and jogging nearly every day. But it took six months before she could speak in full sentences again.

Soon, it became clear that she wouldn’t be able to return to nursing in the foreseeable future.

“I don’t feel disabled, but I am disabled,” she said. “I don’t know if I’m ever going to get there. It’s hard.”

Initially, Jayme struggled to talk about her stroke. But her speech therapist convinced her to seek psychotherapy.

“It was the worst day of my life, but the more I talked about it, the better I felt,” she said. “You need to get sad and angry about it.”

Recently, her speech therapist connected her with a woman looking for somebody to work with her daughter, who has cerebral palsy. Jayme now does speech, occupational and physical therapy with her every day after school.

“The stars kind of matched up,” Jayme said. “I love her so much.”

She also shares her story publicly at Go Red for Women luncheons and is a stroke ambassador. She wants women to put themselves first, understand that stroke can happen to anybody and to recognize and respond F.A.S.T.: Face drooping. Arm weakness. Speech difficulty. Time to call 911 immediately.

“I became a nurse to help people, and that’s why I like speaking up,” she said. “I’m not back to where I was before my stroke, but I’m getting better every day.”