On Tuesday, April 8, 2014, while on a quick run during her daughter's lacrosse practice, Melissa Sarkis Kirby collapsed on a track at Towson High. After 24 hours of investigation at the Johns Hopkins Neuro Ward, they found a blood clot near her brain stem which caused about 8 or 9 small strokes.
She was in the Neuro-Critical Care Unit for the first three weeks. In a coma and on life support, it was touch and go for the first week with a frightening mess of tubes and wires—a truly horrific thing to witness someone you love in this critical place, without knowing the outcome. After her initial life-saving stay, Melissa transferred to acute rehabilitation and continued to show progress. Her state was considered ‘Locked-In Syndrome.’ Cognitively aware, she was able to see and respond to questions by blinking her eyes. With daily therapy, she is starting to move slightly- a thumbs up here, a head turn there.
This experience was truly devastating but Melissa and her dedicated network of friends, family, and caregivers have never lost hope. Recovery for this level of stroke (which is about 1% of all strokes) is incredibly slow, but not impossible! Studies in neuro-plasticity prove that the brain can create new pathways of development with consistent support & repetitions. We’ve heard countless stories of people who were locked in, and with continued therapy, came out of it and continue to thrive—but it will take a lot of time and a lot of money for years to come.
Now, two year later, Melissa is at a rehabilitation center near her family in Columbia, MD where she is receiving daily therapy and integrative medicine for every basic need. The good news is that she is progressing. Melissa recently began to speak a few words. They are faint, but they’re there. Although she is moving much more instinctively in her upper body, she is still mostly immobile. Physical therapy continues to strengthen her towards walking and ultimately independence.It is clear to everyone who is involved in her recovery that she is further now than ever and continues to push further daily, yet every step of the way needs to be financed. Surprising to many, but not to others who have experienced catastrophic health challenges, insurance often will not cover what is needed even when being prescribed by the best doctors in the world.
Melissa was vibrant and active—she loved being with her family and friends, spending summers at the beach, practicing yoga, being in nature with her kids, and working as a partner at Shine Creative. She is still that same beautiful being on the inside and completely aware of everything happening around her, something we are so very thankful for but which at times makes her struggle even more frustrating. Her recovery is slow--like watching a flower blooming in real time, but it's happening. We continue to move forward with the promise that she will return to herself and her family soon.