Vandna Mittal loved dancing and snowboarding. She played varsity tennis and took honors classes at her high school in Redlands, Calif. When a headache disrupted the 15-year-old’s walk to class, she dismissed it.“Who would think it was anything?” she recalled. “Just a headache – harmless.”But Vandna began feeling confused in her English class while studying Shakespeare, and she was a whiz at Shakespeare. Walking to her next class with a friend, she felt something odd happening in her body. As they arrived in the classroom, Vandna was weak and collapsed to the floor. Though she could hear others talking, she couldn’t speak. School officials called her father, and she was taken by ambulance to a local hospital. Tests indicated Vandna had a stroke affecting the right side of her brain, thus impacting the left side of her body. Vandna comes from a family of physicians, so her relatives immediately understood the severity of her condition.
Doctors determined hers was a complicated case involving a clot in her carotid artery because she had a dissected artery – a condition where the lining of the artery separates from the artery wall, causing two flow pathways. Meanwhile, the three-hour optimal window for getting immediate stroke treatment had passed.
Vandna was in the hospital and a rehabilitation center for about three months beginning in April 2005. At the rehab center, Vandna began to realize “my whole life has changed.” She learned again how to turn down a bed and use the restroom on her own.“The simplest things,” she recalled. When she had difficulty brushing her teeth, it struck her how different her daily life might be. Despite an initial prognosis that she would never live a normal life, Vandna gradually improved. She finished high school, earned a degree in speech therapy at University of Redlands and recently finished her master’s degree courses in elementary education at California Baptist University. Now, at age 24, she’s completing her student teaching. After the stroke, Vandna became involved with the American Heart Association.
She has shared her story at public events and helped with heart disease and stroke awareness week at college. She was featured in a charity campaign through the Stater Bros. grocery stores, and she’s sharing her story again to help raise awareness in May as part of American Stroke Month.
Stroke is the No. 4 cause of death in the United States and a major cause of physical impairment. Vandna describes having a stroke as “dodging the ultimate curve ball in life.” As she embarks on her new life, she urges others to stay positive and to remember that there’s always someone else in a worse situation. Vandna offers one of her favorite sayings: “Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.”
Most people can share a story about stroke—whether they know someone who has been affected, suffered one themselves, or are working to reduce their own risk factors. In fact, every year, nearly 800,000 Americans have a stroke. On average in the U.S., one person dies from stroke every four minutes. Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S. and the leading cause of adult disability. But there is good news: Up to 80 percent of strokes can be prevented. Knowing how to identify a stroke, learning the risk factors, and recognizing and responding quickly to a stroke all will help in reducing the impact of stroke.