The Neuroscience Institute provides vital services to the patients and families of upstate South Carolina and consists of five clinical components:
- Meeting the comprehensive needs of neurologic patients
- Fostering collaboration across service lines
- Encouraging comparative effectiveness research
- Providing an infrastructure for clinical training for residents and fellows
- Promoting an environment for education and workforce development
The Neuroscience Institute services nine clinical programs including:
- Neuromuscular Disorders
- Movement Disorders/Parkinson’s Disease
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Brain Tumors
- Memory Health
Around Thanksgiving 2016, I developed a stiff neck. Since it was the holiday season, I decided to treat myself to a massage. On November 25, I got a massage that focused on my neck; as I was leaving, I stopped next door to get a quick adjustment from a chiropractor. What a mistake!
The next day, my neck pain had become a splitting headache. After a few days, I couldn’t take it anymore. I called my doctor and scheduled an appointment for Monday morning. The doctor thought it was just a side effect from the adjustment and prescribed medication to ease the pain. But the next few days saw no improvement—I even became dizzy—so I made another appointment.
During this visit, we changed my medication. I was told if I was still having problems the next week to call so that I could see a physical therapist. Unfortunately, the headaches came with more fervor and intensity over the next couple of days.
On Monday, December 5, things got even worse. My headache was so bad at times that I had to place my head down on my desk—and I had blurry vision. After work, I went to an urgent care center. After four X-rays, I was told I had occipital neuralgia. In other words, the nerve that runs from the base of my skull to behind my eye was inflamed. The doctor gave me two shots and scheduled a follow-up the next day for a nerve-blocking shot.
When I woke up December 6, I reached for my phone. As I turned, so did the world—and it didn’t stop. I was sweating profusely and my whole body hurt. I knew I needed help … and fast. I called several friends, but no one answered. When my friend Lee finally answered, I said, “I’m calling 911! Come to my house.” Then, I hung up.
I told 911 that maybe I was having a heart attack. Thankfully, I had 911 on speakerphone because I couldn’t seem to talk or breathe; the woman at the other end said, “Just stay with me.” I soon heard sirens and felt I could relax.
The next few days were a whirlwind of tests, little sleep and unimaginable fear. I was told that I had had two cerebellar strokes and clusters of strokes beforehand. What scary news to hear at only 35! I was moved between hospitals and various units without many answers as to why this happened or how to make it stop.
Everything became clearer when I was moved to the Neuro Trauma ICU at Greenville Memorial Hospital. After more tests, the doctor informed me that I had two vertebral artery dissections (one had been hidden by a blood clot but was now gone thanks to their care). That doctor was amazing! He and the NP spent hours over the next several days letting me ask as many questions as I could pose. Despite being in one of the most critical care units in the Upstate, things were looking better. Eventually, I was moved to the Stroke Center at Greenville Health System (GHS) to continue my recovery and was released after the right combination of therapy and medication was found.
What caused my strokes? The strokes were caused by the two tears in my arteries. My body was trying to heal those tears by clotting (like a scab) and throwing off blood clots, which caused the strokes. We don’t know for sure how many strokes I had, and we don’t know why the two on Tuesday were bigger than the ones before. What we do know is that some trauma has happened to my neck.
How am I doing today? I look at each day as a blessing and view life differently than I did before. I was told I would need to get use to a “new normal.” My neck, throat, head, arm (left) and leg (left) all hurt at times. My last scan showed improvement, but not as much as my doctor would like. I will have another scan in a few months and hope things will continue to improve.
While some days are harder than others, each day is better than the one before. I’m at to the point where I can go to sleep without thinking I’m going to have another stroke. Although this experience has been the most terrifying in my life, I’m grateful for the care I received from the physicians and nurses at GHS. Without them, I might not be here to share my story.
On March 13, 2015, I was a passenger in the back seat of an automobile when a truck dropped a ladder on the road in front of us. Our car swerved to miss it, ran off the interstate and flipped. I was partially thrown from the car and suffered a severe traumatic brain injury, with a crushed skull and broken facial bones. My brain was swelling to the point of shutting down my organs, and a neurosurgeon at GHS had to perform an emergency craniotomy, where half of my skull was removed. I was given less than a five percent chance of surviving the surgery, and doctors prepared my family for the worst. My parents notified Greenville Technical College that I would be unable to return to school. I had completed one full semester with excellent grades and was immersed in my studies for second semester.
I was in ICU for several weeks – the first of which was spent in a coma. Then, I was transferred to a room and from there went to Roger C. Peace Rehabilitation Hospital. There, I celebrated my 19th birthday. When I returned home, I still was missing half my skull, and I needed therapy three days a week. Two months later, I had another surgery to replace my skull piece and continued therapy.
Because of the brain injury, I experienced great emotional distress and actually through of taking my life. I was admitted to Marshall I. Pickens Hospital for two weeks, where caring staff regulated my medications and counseled me on coping skills.
From there, I returned home – but then was hit with a serious infection in my brain that resulted in more trips to the ER, two pic lines and months of infusions and follow-up appointments.
After seven months, I was allowed to return to work part-time at Home Depot and then to drive several months later. During this time, I found out that I suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and lost most of my sense of smell and taste. I now take several medications and see a counselor to help me control my emotions that at times can be overwhelming. It takes me longer to do some tasks and I do suffer from some memory loss and headaches, but I feel fortunate to be alive. With the help of my loving family, my neurosurgeon, Dr. Stephen Gardner, and countless nurses, doctors and therapists, I have a second chance.
Today, I volunteer with Greenville Health System and I also speak to groups about my injury to inspire and give hope to others who suffer from head injuries. My goal is to get a business degree and help implement a fitness and health program geared for those with disabilities. I now am back at Greenville Technical College. I cannot attend full-time as a result of my brain injuries: Dr. Gardner and my therapists do not want me to stress my brain and recommended no more than two classes a semester for the time being. I do, however, have every intention of completing my degree. I hope that sharing my story provides a face for traumatic brain injuries. Most people look at me today and they have no idea what I have experienced or understand the after effects of my injury. I truly do not know if I would have made this much progress in my recovery without the nurses, doctors at the GHS Neurosciences Institute and for that, I am truly grateful.
One day, WYFF 4 News Anchor Nigel Robertson got a call from his father; his dad, an active man and avid tennis player, complained about having issues with his foot. In two short years, his father lost his ability to move, due to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Here, Nigel shares his father’s story and why he’s so passionate about supporting the future of neurology care in the Upstate through the GHS Neuroscience Institute.