It’s been a long road to recovery for a Beaver Local 16-year-old who suffered a stroke recently but day by day, she’s beating the odds.
Determined, smart, hard-working, kind, generous — those are just a few words used to describe Lauren Thomas by those who know her best.
The girl has faced tragedy at a young age. She and her twin brother lost their mother and father by the time they were 11 but Lauren still found a way to keep a smile on her face.
When Lauren is playing volleyball, she’s in her happy place.
On July 14, while doing what she loves most with her team at a weekend YSU volleyball camp, her life changed — possibly forever.
Lauren’s coach noticed something was off.
“We witnessed Lauren looking a little bit disoriented,” Sarah Lowe said. “She’s a player who fights through anything, including injuries, so at first, we thought maybe it was just an ankle injury. We had walked out onto the court and asked her what was wrong, and we immediately noticed that her speech had started to slur.”
After getting Lauren off the court and seeing that she couldn’t move her arm, they realized she was having a stroke. Sarah called for an ambulance.
Lauren was flown by helicopter from St. Elizabeth’s to Akron Children’s main campus.
Her Aunt Marla and Uncle Huck, who’ve been taking care of her since she was 7 years old, got the call at home that afternoon. They couldn’t believe it.
“I’m thinking, ‘Is she dehydrated, did she eat anything, is her blood sugar off or something?’ Never in a million years did I think a 16-year-old would have a stroke,” Marla Hughes said.
A teenager suffering a stroke is unthinkable — but it can happen. According to the American Heart Association, the risk of stroke from birth through age 18 is nearly 11 per 100,000 children a year.
But that wasn’t even the worst of it. The next day, Lauren’s family received heartbreaking news.
“They said it had damaged two-thirds of the left side of her brain and if she survived, the doctor said she probably would not be able to walk, she probably would not be able to talk, she wouldn’t be able to comprehend,” Marla said.
Now Lauren is as fierce and determined as ever.
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It was time for her to beat the odds and through therapy, hard work, the great medical staff at Akron Children’s Hospital and nationwide support, Lauren is doing just that.
“She’s just got that ‘gotta get it done’ attitude and she’s always had that with what they’ve gone through in their life,” Uncle Huck Hughes said. “She hasn’t had a choice but to have that attitude — and it’s following her into this situation — and with the grace of God, we believe when it’s time to leave, we’re walking out.”
She did. On September 22, Lauren walked back into the Beaver Local gym for the first time since her stroke.
“To watch her walk in on her own, from the parking lot clear into the building, that day was beyond remarkable,” Sarah said.
Experts say strokes can happen to anyone, even healthy children. There are no warning signs.
Symptoms of a stroke include the sudden onset of weakness in one side of the body, numbness, visual loss, changes in behavior, imbalance, slurred speech and loss of consciousness. If you know these signs and symptoms, you could save a life.
Doctors say during a stroke, every minute counts. Call 911 immediately if you think someone is having a stroke.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says quick stroke treatment can lessen brain damage. Treatments that work the best are only available if the stroke is recognized and diagnosed within three hours of the first symptoms.
Marla and Huck credit Lauren’s coach for her being here today.
“They made sure that she got treatment in a timely manner and the doctors here have told us if it wasn’t for the way that Sarah Lowe handled the situation, we wouldn’t be here today because Lauren wouldn’t be here today,” Huck said.
But here she is — walking on her own, even playing a little volleyball again.
It all goes back to a simple saying her teammates came up with — “Strong alone. Unstoppable together. We are Lauren Strong.”
Lauren’s family said she’s doing well and getting movement back in her right arm. She’s been discharged from Akron Children’s main campus but is doing day rehab there Monday through Friday all day.
She will be discharged from day rehab on November 16 then she could possibly do a couple days of outpatient therapy.
Lauren plans to go back to school a couple of days a week during her last two weeks of day rehab.