Just two days after childbirth, Leslie Jordan suffered a series of strokes that left her confused by what was once familiar — and set her on a long journey toward recovery.
Leslie Jordan was searching for a more fulfilling career when she left mortgage banking and went to law school. She graduated and got married the same year and became pregnant a year and a half later. She planned on returning to her job working for a law firm after the baby, but in an instant, her old life was gone.
Two days after giving birth, the 33-year-old new mom suffered several major strokes, including ones that were followed by violent seizures. She also had two or three small strokes and more seizures later. These may have resulted as complications from preeclampsia, or gestational high blood pressure, that developed in her third trimester. She remembers waking up in the ICU and discovering only part of her body could move, and the part that moved was severely weakened.
“It’s like everything was taken away from me,” said Jordan, now 38, of Charlotte, N.C. “I had to just literally leave my old life behind me and focus on the now to survive.”
The first sign of trouble was a creeping, painful headache. Then Jordan’s head grew heavy like a “bowling ball or a house” was on top of it. The pain wouldn’t stop for 48 hours. A nurse asked her questions, then ran into the hallway and returned with a neurologist. Jordan’s speech was slurred, and she struggled to communicate as she felt an unbearable pain “like my body was on fire.”
“I yelled as loud as I could, ‘I am having a stroke,’” Jordan said.
When she woke up weeks later, Jordan felt like she was in a dream. She didn’t know where she was or what happened. She wondered if she had a baby. Her vision was like a “kaleidoscope.” She had to relearn to talk. Eventually she held her son, feeling grateful to be alive.
When she got out of the hospital, Jordan wasn’t out of the woods. That was evident on her ride home.
“The streets were new. The signs didn’t make any sense. The car we were riding in didn’t seem familiar. I didn’t know where I was,” she said. “I didn’t even recognize my own bedroom. I was like, ‘This is where I live?’ I just thought, ‘OK, if I wake up tomorrow, maybe my life will come back.’”
Jordan kept telling others she was OK, not wanting them to worry or be scared. She was at peace and relied on her faith. She also had the support of husband and family as months grew to years.
“It took me a while to realize I was a mom. I think my motherhood, as you would say, didn’t really start until my son was 3 years old because I didn’t have the capability,” she said. “Me and my son, it’s just like we kind of grew up together. We learned to walk at the same time. We learned how to talk at the same time.”
Now more than four years since her stroke, Jordan is still recovering. She’s at home with her husband taking care of her son, going to doctors’ appointments and continuing rehab. On the outside she may look OK, but her brain is damaged. Everyday tasks like brushing her teeth may take all her energy for the day. She pushes herself to be present.
“It’s not a broken arm. You can see a broken arm,” Jordan said.
When she found out she had preeclampsia, which occurs in 1 in 25 pregnancies, Jordan was surprised because she was extra careful while pregnant and felt fine. Her advice to other women who may get diagnosed with preeclampsia is to take it seriously. She knows Black women have the highest maternal mortality rate and doesn’t want stroke or death to happen to anyone.
“God gave me a second chance. I’m doing the best I can with it.”
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