Information and opinions presented here do not always represent the views of the American Heart Association.

10-year-old continues to defy expectations after her stroke

Published: 11:25 am CDT, August 20, 2014

Christine Winchester believes her daughter has interests, ideas and dreams that are typical of other 10-year-olds. But the stroke that Rhys suffered before she was born — and how she has handled herself since – illustrate her unique perseverance and strength.

Christine’s pregnancy was typical for twins and she, her husband, Jason, and their oldest daughter, Devon, were eager for the arrival of Rhys and her twin sister Shea. Then during the 28-week ultrasound to check on the babies, doctors said that the lateral ventricles in Rhys’ brain measured bigger than normal.

That was frightening and incomprehensible news. But it became worse within hours after the babies’ birth in April of 2004. An EEG showed abnormal brain activity and an MRI revealed that Rhys had four lesions in the left parietal lobe of her brain, indicating that she suffered a perinatal stroke.

“When you hear that your not-even-3-hour-old child has had some sort of injury to her brain your mind starts to race, you start to feel nervous and kind of panic,” Christine said.

The questions kept coming. Why? Why did Rhys have a stroke in the womb?

As in the majority of perinatal stroke cases, a definitive cause wasn’t found. While Christine occasionally still wonders what caused the stroke, she believes a more important question to ask is what can she do to help her child.

Other questions swirled around how such a tiny baby would develop after such a substantial injury. None of the medical professionals they consulted could provide a definitive prognosis.  Rhys was watched carefully to try to determine the impact of the stroke. 

Unfortunately, due to a miscommunication, Rhys did not begin therapy until she was 14 months old.  By then, her evaluation showed her to have a 60 percent gross motor delay, a 50 percent fine motor delay and a 40 percent speech delay.

A decade and hundreds of hours of physical, speech and occupational therapy later, Rhys still fights the effects of her perinatal stroke. Despite being told that she would likely never walk, or have complete use of her right hand, she walks and uses her hand well.

 She has been able to catch up to her peers with her fine motor skills and speech, and most people watching her would never suspect that she continues to work so diligently.  Currently she does physical therapy for 45 minutes twice a month. She also works for several hours at home each week to strengthen the right side of her body, particularly the large muscle groups in her leg.

 That fight also has helped shape her into a little girl with grit — filled with determination and optimism.

“She for us, has always defied expectation, in the greatest of ways” Jason said.

With the lack of awareness about perinatal and childhood strokes, the Winchesters are determined to get the word out.

They are teaming up with the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association and the International Alliance for Pediatric Stroke to educate people that strokes can happen at any age.

Photos courtesy of Winchester family