By: Simbi Animashaun

In November 2014, I was a 7th-grade English Language Arts (ELA) teacher and in graduate school pursuing a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership in Cleveland, OH. I unexpectedly experienced the “worst headache in my life” while presenting my final project for class. Initially, I was discharged from the emergency room (ER) after the nurses informed me that the symptoms I had experienced were a result of pregnancy. I did not expect to hear that news because earlier that year I had experienced my first miscarriage, and I was not emotionally prepared to be pregnant again.

Weeks later, my symptoms did not improve, which included paralysis on the left side of my body, slurred speech, blurry vision, hand tremors, and vomiting. After attending an appointment with the OB/GYN, he informed me that the baby did not have a heartbeat. This was my second miscarriage that year, and it was devastating. But, that was the least of the doctor’s concerns. He sent me to the nearest hospital where the doctors performed several tests, including an MRI. Results showed that I had suffered a brain hemorrhage that was caused by an unbeknownst brain arteriovenous malformation, also known as an AVM. This was my first time learning that I had a brain injury.

After I received the news, it was difficult for me to process this information. I cannot believe that I had been discharged from the emergency room with only a pregnancy diagnosis. This news made me very upset after learning that I lay in bed for an entire week with ruptured blood vessels and bleeding in my brain. As weeks passed. I still lay in bed, feeling sorry for myself, unable to walk, clearly express my thoughts and feelings to my family or significant other, hold down any food, etc.

Mid-December, my neurosurgeon referred me to occupational therapy (OT) to help me regain independence in all areas of my life. My occupational therapist, a young Hispanic woman, had just graduated from her OT program. I was her first patient. After sharing my AVM story with her, we instantly connected. She created a treatment plan that would help me with barriers that were affecting my physical, emotional, and social needs. I needed this therapy because I was not feeling very confident about myself at all. When I would look in the mirror, I would feel disgusted at myself. I was upset at God.

How could you allow this to happen to me?

I was still carrying the “baby with no heartbeat” by the way. I could not process that I had lost another baby either. Furthermore, I ended up experiencing a natural miscarriage at home days later. Furious, I began questioning God every day.

Why me? Why my baby?

One day, my occupational therapist dropped some gems. She told me that I was not my disability and that God gave me a second chance at life. She continued by sharing that most people who have brain AVMs do not live. As a result of this conversation, my life would change forever!

I started thanking God for a second chance at life. I started researching my brain AVM in hopes of learning more about what I had just experienced. Not only that, but I started educating myself about life after a brain injury. Likewise, I started thinking more positively about myself and my recovery. When I changed my mindset, my life began to flourish in several ways. I stayed in OT for three months, and even though I was not 100% I was able to live an independent life despite hand tremors, inability to walk straight and climb stairs, and some memory loss.

I returned to work in March 2015. My students were so happy to see me, but I was nervous and uncomfortable. With a few months left in the school year, I tried my best to provide quality education to my students. Unfortunately, I would go on to suffer two more miscarriages that summer. That did not dim my light, though. After the fourth miscarriage, I prepared myself for Gamma Knife Radiosurgery in September 2015, which is a therapy procedure that employs radiation and computer-guided planning to treat brain cancers, vascular malformations, and other abnormalities in the brain. The procedure lasted for 2 hours and was successful.

The following year, I decided to move back to my hometown, Atlanta, GA. I found a new job, home, church, and I even started attending a reproductive specialist. My reproductive specialist was remarkable. She is the reason I made a healthy lifestyle change—a balanced diet, exercise routine, meditation, and lowering blood sugar levels (I did not even know they were high). Miraculously, I became pregnant again and gave birth to my three healthy children in January 2018, November 2019, and November 2020. Giving birth to my children has been the happiest moment in my life.

God kept me here! I am so thankful that he did. I am thankful for my occupational therapist, my significant other who did not give up on me, and my reproductive specialist. Today, I am an Instructional Coach, a published author of The Power of Healing: A Memoir of Loss & Victory and This Too Shall Pass: Turning Pain Into Power: A Healing Journal for the Woman Needing Encouragement After A Miscarriage , and the owner of two small businesses, Simmaculate Health & Wellness, LLC and Simmaculately Snatched, LLC. I am also the founder of United by Loss, Foundation, Inc. which is a nonprofit organization that provides grief and financial support to women and families who have experienced loss at any stage, including miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant loss.

My advice to other stroke survivors is to be thankful for a second chance at life. Research shows that 1 in 20 people who have strokes do not live. YOU DID!! Find a support group (which I did not have access to) and if you have not already, start OT to help you regain independence in your life. Once you are discharged, continue to practice the routines and skills that you learned during your OT sessions. DO NOT GIVE UP! YOU ARE NOT YOUR DISABILITY!