P.E. teacher continues recovery in midst of her pregnancy

P.E. teacher Jamie Smith recovers in the hospital.

P.E. teacher Jamie Smith recovers in the hospital.

Last semester, the unthinkable happened: physical education teacher Jamie Smith suffered an unexpected stroke, in the middle of her fourth pregnancy. The school rallied in support of Smith, as she embarked on her journey of recovery and are anxiously waiting her return next fall.

Smith’s stroke came from a bleed in her brainstem, which controls basic bodily functions, on Oct. 25. The stroke impaired much of her left side and her right eye. Both are improving, although her vision has returned much more slowly.

Beyond that, Smith and her baby were unharmed, partially due to her robust state of health and fitness before the stroke.

Over Christmas break, the Waterloo/Cedar Falls Courier featured a front-page story on Smith’s rapid recovery. Therefore, many expected her to come back right away in January. Unfortunately, Smith will not be back at all this semester, as she needs to continue to focus on recovering and having her baby in the spring.

The bracelets sold to benefit Smith's recovery.

The bracelets sold to benefit Smith’s recovery.

Mrs. Bockes, who filled in for Smith last semester, has continued teaching Smith’s classes for the remainder of the school year.

Smith’s journey has been a long one, starting several months ago last fall. She recalls how she almost passed out around first hour on Oct. 21. Throughout that week, she began to feel nausea and tingling in her left hand and foot.

On Thursday. Oct. 24, she went to the doctor after feeling tingling in her face. Thinking that it was a side effect of the flu, Smith’s doctor sent her to Sartori to receive fluids. That night, however, she woke up feeling dizzy and nauseous, and she had lost fine motor function in her left hand.

She went to Covenant right away, where she did many tests, including a CT scan. The CT scan showed a hemorrhage, or bleeding in the Pons area of the brainstem, which controls many basic functions and movements.

Smith was then airlifted to the hospitals at the University of Iowa where she received another CT scan and an MRI scan. While the MRI showed no tumor, the picture was unclear due to the blood still in the affected area. The bleed was 2 centimeters, very large for the brainstem.

After a few days, Smith was transferred to The Covenant Rehabilitation Unit and began physical and occupational therapy. She stayed there until Nov. 21 and then spent four days at New Aldaya Lifescapes for more physical therapy. She came home the day before Thanksgiving, while continuing physical therapy.

However, on Dec. 26, Smith discovered that the bleed in her brainstem was caused by a cavernous malformation cavernoma (CM), also called popcorn legions. Smith was told by one surgeon that she would need surgery after delivering her baby, and that she would never be the same afterwards. A second opinion at Mayo assured her that surgery was not needed, since it could seriously reduce her quality of life. Therefore, she and the doctors decided to wait to see if her brainstem will bleed again, the likelihood of which decreases over time.

While Smith planned to come back to school this semester, the prognosis she received on Dec. 26 made it clear that she would not be able to. She is physically able to work, but she would not be able to demonstrate or set up equipment, and she would need to sit often.

Currently her vision is corrected with a prism lens because it is still double, and when she uses the computer, she either speaks into it or types on her iPad with one finger. On top of these obstacles, Smith said she needs to focus on her health and the health of her baby. “My first priority is continuing to have a healthy pregnancy and have baby Smith smoothly,” Smith said.

The baby is due on April 12, but will be delivered a week earlier by C-section so natural labor does not cause added stress on Smith’s brain. “She has been my major concern this entire time,” Smith said of her baby.

Smith said the hardest thing about recovery is the constant mental battle. “It is frustrating to tell your body to do something and have it completely ignore you. It is humbling to have to constantly ask for help and just resign yourself to the fact that you are unable when everything used to be so easy and second nature.”  Smith  has learned to ask for help and to “slow down, enjoy the little things, tell those I love and appreciate how important they are every day, to trust in my faith and so much more.”

For those struggling with health or unexpected obstacles, Smith said to focus on how far they have come rather than how far they need to go. She also encourages them to talk about it.

“It helps so much to just be open with what you are experiencing, whether it’s good or bad,” Smith said.

She has recounted much of her journey on her Facebook page, journaling at least once a week.

“It helps me release my fears and keep my friends and family up-to-date,” Smith said. She said that she has had complete strangers reach out and tell her their personal stories. “The support and encouragement that I get from people’s comments to those posts helps so much,” Smith said. They help to remind me that I can do it and am going to be OK.”


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