In March 2014, nail tech Brisa Alfaro, a Young Nails Senior Mentor, suffered a major stroke after traveling from Los Angeles to New York for a tradeshow. She was very lucky to have survived. Now, in her own words, Alfaro describes her arduous and emotional journey back to good health and the shift in perspective that came with it.
Surrounded by friends
I was 32 years old when it happened. I was working as a Senior Mentor for Young Nails, traveling and teaching and making friends in our industry all over the country. On March 28, 2014, I flew to New York City to work a nail show for Young Nails and visit with friends. I had worked a show in Chicago just days before and had had only two days rest before heading out again. It would be my third trip in one month. I didn’t mind, though. I love traveling and teaching! Well I had a rude awakening when I arrived.
A combination of lack of sleep, a strange allergic reaction, and a very bad day led me to a New York City Hospital the following day. The day I arrived, I started having strange symptoms like dizziness and a very swollen face due to an allergic reaction. I did as many my age would do: I called my mom, took two Benadryl, and slept the horrible night away, thinking that would do the trick. When I woke up the next morning I wasn’t any better, so I hailed a cab and told the driver to take me to the closest hospital. As soon as I got there the doctors recognized that something was wrong. As odd as it sounds, I was extremely lucky that those odd symptoms brought me to the hospital that day. The doctors admitted me right away and started treatment. A few moments later, it happened — the moment that would change my life forever.
My first steps
While I was at the hospital, I had a Pons stroke (also known as a brain stem stroke). Normally when people have a stroke, it affects one side of their body — left or right. However in my case, it happened in the middle, the worst kind. It affected my brain stem, which controls all basic activities. Normally anyone who suffers this type of stroke has a horrible outcome. It’s a serious condition — usually survivors can only move their eyes.
Following the stroke, I was in a coma for several days. Before I was fully conscious, I heard a doctor pronounce what he thought was my fate to the other doctors: “If she makes it past these next three days, she will never move again.” Well they were wrong! When I finally woke up, I was so scared because I couldn’t move anything from my neck down, just as I had heard. I couldn’t even talk, let alone move any of my limbs. But despite what the medical books say, I eventually started to move.
More physical therapy
On the first day of my physical therapy they sat me up on my hospital bed, but I had lost the ability to lift my own head. Like a baby’s head, it would just fall to the side. I practiced lifting my own head every day lying in my hospital bed. This way when the therapists came back, I would be ready for them. I finally did it!
Then I started to move my right side, and when I was strong enough, my friends brought over a white board so I could at least write down what I wanted to say. But the moment I used it I realized how bad this really was. I was trying to write a message on the board, but it was all scribbles! I made no kind of sense. I had no idea how to write what I wanted to say. I immediately thought about my clients, wondering how I would ever work in my industry again. So I practiced and practiced my writing and coloring skills until I could finally make sense.
My next challenge was standing up on my own — that was tough but I did that too. Then it was small kicks. Little by little, I was getting stronger. I never once thought this disabled condition was my destiny. I would find a way to overcome it. Slowly I started to move more on my right side, then my left followed later. I still couldn’t breathe on my own at this point. I had a tracheostomy to assist my breathing. It would be a while until they thought I was strong enough to breathe without the trache.
One year later
Although I was improving quickly and regaining strength on both my right and left sides, I had to relearn how to do everything that used to be second nature: brushing my teeth, taking a shower, doing my hair, getting dressed. Not only were these things a challenge, they were exhausting. Doing simple tasks felt as if I was running a marathon. I exercised and practiced my daily routines; I even had to relearn to chew my food and swallow properly before I could finally eat.
Now, two years later, my journey is still far from over. Unfortunately, when they removed the trache from my throat, it built scar tissue blocking my airways. Most healthy people breathe out of an airway the size of a quarter — mine shrank down to an opening smaller than a dime. This made it very hard for me to breathe, but also hard to eat as well. I’ve had several procedures to correct the problem, and I’m making progress. I also have some lingering short-term memory issues and problems with numbers.
I remember when it first happened. I would cry and cry and wonder “why me?” However it shortly became clear. Why not me? What makes ME so special? It can happen to anyone. So now my job is to get better and tell my story to help as many people as I can.
Now I never have bad days, because every day that I’m alive and well is a gift. What happened to me has made me appreciate life so much more. I’m back working for Young Nails and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve also been working with the American Heart/Stroke Association and speaking for them at some events.
Now, two years later
I hope that in sharing my story I will help people realize that life is short and we should be grateful for every moment we are on this earth. Yes, life can be stressful, but at least we’ve got our health, family, and great friends around us. There’s no need to worry so much and no need to sweat the small stuff — we’ll figure it out! I can honestly say that my life has completely changed for the better. My motto has now become #NoMoreBadDays.