After suffering a stroke due to her habit of neck cracking, this paramedic is now warning others about it.
The young paramedic Natalie Kunicki, who works for London Ambulance Service (LAS) , was in bed with her friend watching films after going out on 4 March. She stretched her neck and a loud “crack” was heard afterwards. She went to bed but 15 minutes after she had woken up to go to the toilet, she couldn`t move her left leg and fell to the floor when she tried to walk.
The following morning she was taken to hospital where a CT scan showed she had a stroke. When she cracked her neck, her vertebral artery, the major one in the neck, leading to a blood clot to form in her brain and causing a stroke.
She was in shock after the diagnosis and became `emotionless’ for many days as she had her left side nearly totally paralyzed by the stroke.
She recovered regaining movement in her leg, arm and hand after daily exercise.
She was then sent to her parents` home in Harrow, London.
Natalie is now warning people of the dangers when cracking joints and raising awareness that strokes may affect you despite your age.
She moved from Canberra, Australia to join the LAS in December 2017.
Natalie said: “People need to know that even if you’re young, something this simple can cause a stroke. I wasn’t even trying to crack my neck. I just moved and it happened.
“I’m a paramedic and I didn’t ring 999 for 10 minutes because I thought it was too unlikely it would be a stroke when I should have known much better. Every minute more of your brain cells are dying, so don’t ever discount a stroke just because someone is young.
“People need to be more mindful when doing any chiropractic exercises or strenuous gym weights. I was in bed watching stuff with a friend when it happened.
However, when she was told it was because of a stroke, she was perplexed by the diagnosis. She said: “ The doctors told me later that just that stretching of my neck had caused my vertebral artery to rupture. It was just spontaneous and there’s a one in a million chance of it happening”
“I was in shock for about three days in ICU. I was a bit of a wet blanket. I didn’t really say much and I wasn’t engaging with anyone. I had no sense of humour.
She also added: “But a couple of my friends from the ambulance service told me, ‘You have a week from the day of your stroke to snap out of this or we will snap you out of it. I was able to have my little pity party for a week but that’s it. They told me, ‘What’s done is done now – just work and do all the exercises.’
Natalie went through a three- hour surgery where the doctors saw the artery burst. They managed to repair her artery using a stent, but they couldn`t clear the clot in her brain which they think will dissolve with the passing of the time.
Natalie said: “I expected to wake up from this miracle surgery and everything would be fixed but my mobility was worse and they couldn’t clear the clot. At the start, I couldn’t move my thumb and forefinger. I could kind of move my wrist up and down. I couldn’t lift my arm. I could bend my left leg but I couldn’t wiggle my toes.
“The doctors would do tests – I had to close my eyes and they would touch my left side but I couldn’t tell where they were touching. It was like when you have a really bad sunburn and your skin is sizzling. I felt that all down my left side.
“I think I scared my consultant because after I woke up, she came in to ask how I was going – but I told her, ‘You should have killed me.‘ Depression is really common after a stroke because you lose so much of your independence and your dignity.”
She is hoping to return to work for ‘ light duty’ in six to 12 months after having recovered some movement and sensation.
Natalie explained: “I was scared at first about being discharged, because my parents’ home has lots of stairs and I didn’t know how I was going to manage, but it’s gone well. I’ve recovered movement in my left side. I can walk but not for more than five minutes.
“Being discharged and at my parents’ is definitely helping with my recovery because I had to do things for myself. I’m definitely doing something right but it’s slow going.
“It has been strange being on the other side but the ambulance crew who came out to me were amazing. They did a perfect job. “
Natalie is determined in making people aware of strokes in young people.
She said: “I have been called out to so many people having strokes and they’re always in their 70s or 80s. I have never been to a young person having a stroke. Mine was one in a million but a ruptured vertebral artery is actually quite a common cause of strokes in young people. They will be in the gym or doing something quite physical and it happens. Strokes are also quite common in kids.
Natalie has been staying at her parents, Peter, 65, and Anne,62, but they are to go back to Australia in July.
She said: “When I woke up from surgery my brother told me he’d set up a fundraising page and all my friends and colleagues have been sharing it. Eighty percent of the donations are from people I work with which means so much. It’s going to be so helpful.
“I really want to get back in my own flat and I really don’t want to have to move back to Australia. I love my work too much and I don’t want to leave them.”
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