Unable to walk, talk or swallow after a stroke, Steffany Quintana threw herself into rehab, earned her degree and started dancing again.
In hindsight, Steffany Quintana realizes that stress may have contributed to the stroke she had last year. Just 24 at the time, the Houston native routinely worked 60 hours per week while attending college full-time, preparing for the LSAT and helping her single mother take care of her three younger siblings. “I was always on the go,” she said.
Perhaps ironically, Steffany was enjoying a rare bit of rest and relaxation at boyfriend Danny Ramos’ apartment when her head began throbbing, and the side of her face went numb. She wondered if she was having a panic attack. Increasingly nauseous, she went to the bathroom and threw up blood. “I could taste iron in my mouth,” she said.
Danny, a police officer, carried her to the bed and called 911. Worried about her mom’s reaction, Steffany called her sister, Liz, and asked her to break the news, her speech barely audible. Within minutes, she lost the ability to speak entirely. By the time the ambulance arrived, her hand had clenched into a claw and contracted to her chest. “I knew something bad was happening, but I thought it would go away,” she said.
At the hospital, doctors performed an MRI and discovered a bleed in Steffany’s brain.
Fortunately, the hemorrhage had stopped and Steffany spent a week in the ICU while doctors monitored her condition. “I didn’t start talking until the third day, but it was slurred and not very loud,” she recalled.
She also lost control of her bladder and the ability to swallow. A feeding tube down her nose prevented her from choking or getting food in her lungs. Unable to eat, she craved ice cream. Once, after her mother, Alma, finished eating Cheetos, Steffany licked her fingers of the orange dust that remained.
“I didn’t care if I had to be in a wheelchair for a little longer as long as I could eat,” she said.
After she was discharged, Steffany checked into in-patient rehab, where she was put on a liquid diet until she regained the ability to swallow. Her sister, Liz, moved into her room, bathing her, changing her and keeping her company. Unable to control her emotions, Steffany cried for hours. But she progressed steadily, slowly regaining the ability to swallow, talk and walk with a cane.
Despite her progress, she wondered if she’d ever be the same. While she could walk again, she worried she’d lose her rhythm and be unable to dance again. “Our family has lots of parties with good food, music and dancing,” she explained, noting she also enjoying square dancing with her friends.
During the first days out of rehab, everything felt new and raw, “like a newborn baby,” Steffany explained. Something as simple as a car ride would completely overwhelm her. Despite those difficulties, she threw herself back into school, making up the coursework she had missed while she finished her last semester. “I wanted to get my life back on track,” she said.
She also got involved, speaking about her experience at a couple of symposia for nurses. She wants to educate healthcare providers about the impact stroke can have on mental health. “It messes completely with your emotions,” she said. “Had I been more informed, I think things would have been smoother.”
Although Steffany is still recovering and sometimes limps when she’s tired, she hasn’t lost her rhythm – something she learned recently at a family birthday party. “Everybody was up and dancing, so I gave it a shot and started dancing,” she said. “I’m back on it.”