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Student shares story of recovering
from pediatric stroke at age 12
Jan. 29, 2015
What Jamie Coyle loved most about playing hockey was the ease of it: the way she would fly down the ice on a breakaway to score, gliding just as effortlessly as the first time she skated, when she was 3 years old in a backyard rink her father made. That is, until she was struck down at 12 by a pediatric stroke – a rare and unpredictable medical event heralded only by a headache and shortness of breath.
It was then that hockey, and life itself, became a more difficult road – one she writes about in "The Luckiest Girl In The World" with local author Paul Lonardo.
The book, penned over the last two years as Coyle was finishing up at Cumberland High School, was released on Amazon in November. Coyle said that she hopes the memoir – which educates readers on the dangers of pediatric stroke as well as tells her own grueling experience with years of rehabilitation and physical therapy – is an inspiration to not just stroke survivors, but "anyone who is going through the teenage years." "There's always a light at the end of the tunnel," she said.
It's likely that part of Coyle's motivation in writing the book with Lonardo, whom she met through physical therapist David Dansereau, is that she wishes someone could have made her believe that when she was in those dark hours on the other side. She not only had to negotiate the difficulties of adolescence, she said, but the physical and mental challenges of adapting to life after the stroke.
"It was the scariest moment of my life," she said, recalling the day that her world changed in an instant. After scoring two goals in a game her team would go on to win at a tournament in Marlborough, Massachusetts, she collapsed.
A volunteer EMT on her team's bench came to her assistance and quickly realized what had happened. Coyle said she remembered him lifting both of her arms in the air and her right arm quickly falling back to the ground, a classic sign of stroke.
After she was rushed to the hospital, doctors ruled out heart defects, though they were still unable to give her a cause for the stroke. She spent a month in intensive care at the UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester and moved on to a month at Spaulding Rehabilitation in Boston. Back home in Rhode Island, she spent years going to rehab up to four times a week at a program through Rhode Island Hospital, trying to keep a positive attitude.
"I was used to working hard, so rehab wasn't an issue," she said. "But my doctors were worried that I wasn't depressed enough. In my eyes, I still thought I'd be back to playing hockey, and in their eyes, they could see what was really going to happen."
Reality hit for Coyle when, at 15, she attempted to play once more. "I couldn't skate as well. I didn't score. I realized I was never going to play again," she said.
It was a big adjustment for Coyle, who had to work to become left-handed to deal with the permanent weakness to her right side. Understandably, she also feared having another stroke – a routine headache could turn into an avalanche of worries for her. She found that her faith, strong before the event, was tested, as well.
"Obviously, when something traumatic happens in anyone's life, you wonder why God let this happen. You start losing faith. But I definitely regained that; I realize that God kept me here for a reason," she said.
That faith along with hard work, counseling and the support of her mother and Dansereau kept her going. Six years later, Coyle is back on the ice as much as she can be, volunteering her time and skills to teach autistic children in Pawtucket to skate themselves away from the difficulties of life for a little while and learn about her beloved sport through Pawtucket Special Hockey.
"It just makes me so happy to see the kids have smiles on their faces," she said. "That's payment enough."
Coyle also started taking classes at CCRI last semester, and is enjoying a break this semester to spend time promoting her book and assessing her goals for the future. She attributes much of this progress to working on the book. "I'm in a really good place right now," she said. "And writing the book was like therapy. I remember times I spent talking to Paul Lonardo and just crying as I explained everything. It was good to get it all out."
The book is available for purchase on Amazon, and more of Coyle's story is available on the book's Facebook page.
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