Kate Briscoe doesn’t remember much about the day she had a stroke, but she does remember being on the floor. She could tell by the feet around her.
She passed out at her daughter’s ice skating competition.
“Half of people who have this kind of brain bleeding don’t survive the first 30 days.”
By the time paramedics arrived, Kate wasn’t breathing; she was rushed to Marina Del Rey Hospital. Doctors determined she’d had a brain aneurysm, which was causing a subarachnoid hemorrhage, or bleeding around the brain. As a result of the aneurysm, Kate suffered a subarachnoid stroke, and doctors decided to move her to Cedars-Sinai to give her the best possible chance of recovery.
She arrived on June 25, 2016—3 days after her 46th birthday.
Dr. Asma Moheet, interim director of the Cedars-Sinai Neurosciences ICU, remembers Kate’s arrival well.
“This type of stroke only accounts for 5% of strokes, and half of people who have this kind of brain bleeding don’t survive the first 30 days,” says Dr. Moheet. “She presented at a Hunt and Hess grade 4.”
The Hunt and Hess scale ranges from 1-5; it is used to determine severity of a hemorrhage and helps measure a patient’s prognosis. At grade 4, Kate’s condition was severe, and doctors weren’t sure if she would recover.
Kate was placed in an induced coma, underwent brain surgery to help drain the fluid building inside her skull, and then suffered an ischemic stroke—the most common and damaging type of stroke.
I grabbed on to that ‘maybe’
Kate’s husband, Ivan Garel-Jones, stayed at her bedside in the ICU. When it was time for Kate to move to a long-term acute care facility, she was only opening her eyes to light stimulus and wasn’t following verbal commands. Ivan asked doctors what her chances were.
“Dr. Moheet said her scans didn’t show deep tissue damage, so ‘maybe there was a possibility’ she would recover,” says Ivan. “I grabbed on to that ‘maybe.'”
Before her stroke, Kate was a doting stay-at-home mom of two girls, 11 and 13 at the time. The London native had moved to the US with her husband and had built a strong social network.
Network of support
That social network would prove invaluable as Kate faced an unknown amount of time in acute care and later, physical rehabilitation.
“Her friends have really helped us through this.”
“She had 30 moms on a schedule to visit her and bring food for all of us,” says Ivan. “Her friends have really helped us through this.”
Four months later, Kate began speaking at a whisper. Ivan says it was hard to follow and understand her at first, but he recalls the time when he knew she still had her wits about her.
“My sister was visiting and offered to massage Kate’s legs, and she asked Kate, ‘Is this OK?’” says Ivan. “Kate whispered back, ‘Yes, but mildly inappropriate.'”
Road to Recovery
Kate was transferred to the California Rehabilitation Institute (Cal Rehab), where she did occupational and physical therapy for a grueling 8 hours each day.
Kate remembers that learning to dress herself was the hardest part of her treatment.
“I had a lot of trouble with that, and it was very frustrating,” says Kate. “I worked really hard on that at Cal Rehab.”
“When I met her, both sides of her body weren’t working,” says her caretaker Susie Winn. “They worked her so hard at Cal Rehab; she’s made so much progress, and she’s never given up.”
“A lot of her recovery is her and how hard she worked on rehab.”
In early 2018, Kate reached a major milestone in her recovery when she took her first steps since the stroke more than 18 months before. With the help of a walker and her aide, she now walks daily.
“For someone to bounce back this much and this quickly shows a lot of motivation and determination on her part,” says Dr. Moheet. “A lot of her recovery is her and how hard she worked on rehab.”
Kate hopes by this time next year, she’ll be walking with only a cane. But for now, she’s happy with the progress she’s made so far.
“Anything I can do that used to be ‘normal’ is a victory and I celebrate it every time,” Kate says. “My message to other stroke patients is don’t give up. Ever.”