Woman has miracle baby despite spinal stroke

Posted at 6:19 AM, Oct 15, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-15 06:38:29-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. --  A young West Michigan mother is speaking out after having a stroke in her spine.

Doctors say it's a rare medical condition that does not give off any warning signs.

A spinal stroke can happen to anyone, affecting a person's ability to read and send signals to the brain and other parts of the body.

Doctors say it's still hard to find out what causes them, but for one mom who made a miraculous recovery, she says it's an experience she will never forget.

"It was May 19th of 2015," recalled Heather Ondersma. A day that started like any other. But it went south very quickly.

"My legs started to feel weird like it was falling asleep and I had a pain in the middle of my back. It went straight through my body, into my diaphragm and I didn't know what was going on."

In the hospital, the then 26-year-old got some sobering news. She said doctors told her she would never walk again.

Heather says it took doctors a week to diagnose her condition as a spinal stroke because she didn't have any symptoms.

"It can be very frustrating for the physicians and very difficult for the patients because there is no warning and they're at no particular risk," explained Dr. Daniel Fechtner, a physician of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital.

"It just happens like a bolt of lightning."

Doctor Daniel Fechtner was Heather's doctor at Mary Free Bed. He says spinal strokes are very rare, affecting only a few thousand people in the U.S. each year.

"That is because there aren't so many of them. We know a bit less of who's at risk. When they do happen, it's typically when they have major surgery, like surgery on the aorta on the circulatory system," Dr. Fechtner said.

But, that wasn't the case for Heather. Determined to prove her bleak prognosis wrong, Heather was able to walk a week before she left Mary Free Bed.

But, the effects will still stay with her. Now, she wants others to be aware.

"I thought I was invincible and this happened," Heather said.

"I limp, I have sporadic muscle tremors I can't control."

Perhaps the biggest setback.

"I was told I could never have children."

But, standing in front of us, telling us her story, Heather is now the mother of a healthy baby.

"That's the biggest miracle coming out of all of this."

And, she's grateful for this renewed chance at life.

"Mary Free Bed is a miracle. If it wasn't for them, I probably wouldn't be walking today."

Doctor Fechtner tells us if you have sudden weakness or loss of strength in your legs or arms, get to the emergency room right away. Usually, an MRI can help doctors know what is going on. However, he says recovery can vary, depending on the person and how severe their stoke is.