A young paramedic – 23-year-old Natalie Kunicki – ruptured an artery in her back and spine when she was stretching her back on neck, causing paralysis.
The effects didn’t set in immediately though, as all that happened was a loud crack, something she was fairly used to. Thinking nothing of it, she set of to bed, this happening after a night out.
“I was in bed watching stuff with a friend when it happened.
I stretched my neck and I could just hear this ‘crack, crack, crack’. My friend asked ‘was that your neck?’ but all my joints crack quite a bit so I didn’t think anything of it. I just laughed.“
It was 15 minutes later though, when she got out of bed. that she noticed something wasn’t right. She couldn’t move her left leg and fell to the floor.
She began to contemplate whether or not she had been drugged while out, but didn’t want to call the emergency services because she felt embarrassed to be drunk around people she worked with.
“I fell asleep and when I woke up about 15 minutes later. I wanted to go to the bathroom but I could feel this leg in the bed and I was asking my friend if he could move his leg.
He told me it was my leg but I was a bit tipsy so I wasn’t taking anything seriously and just thought ‘that’s a bit weird’.
I got up and tried to walk to the bathroom and I was swaying everywhere. I looked down and realised I wasn’t moving my left leg at all then I fell to the floor.
My friend had to come and pick me up. He thought I was drunk but I knew something else was wrong. I thought I had been drugged. The date rape drug can cause paralysis.“
Luckily Natalie put aside her embarrassment, and eventually called 999. They sent an ambulance and by now, her coordination was quickly deteriorating while her heart rate and blood pressure were ‘sky high’.
Shockingly, a CT scan confirmed that Kunicki had suffered from a stroke, caused when her vertebral artery burst as she cracked her neck, leading to a blood clot forming in her brain.
Natalie was rushed to a three-hour surgery, with her left side going completely paralysed. The artery was able to be repaired with a stent, but surgeons weren’t able to clear the clot; the silver lining being that they think it will dissolve in time.
Natalie went into shock after the surgery, saying:
“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.
When the consultant told me I’d had a stroke I was in shock.
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 thanks her friends for helping her get through the tough time, saying that she initially didn’t see worth in being alive.
“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’.
They were fantastic and they would come in and do all the exercises with me.
I think if I didn’t have them I would have been in my pity party quite a bit longer but instead I smashed through all the therapy goals.“
Natalie was discharged from hospital at the end of March, with her exercises helping aid the movement of her arm, leg and hand.
She can now dress herself and walk for five minutes at a time and she hopes to be fit enough to resume “light duty” at work in sic to twelve months.
Now Natalie is warning against people cracking joints, and spreading awareness that even young people can suffer from strokes.
“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.
And people need to be more mindful when doing any chiropractic exercises or strenuous gym weights.
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.”
With Natalie’s parents moving to Australia in the very near future and her not being able to work yet, for obvious reasons, she needs a way to stay in London. With that, Natalie’s brother has set up a fundraiser to help Natalie stay in the city.
You can donate to it here.
Wishing you a speedy recovery, Natalie!
Images via Kennedy Media