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Learning to walk, then dance

October 08, 2015
Learning to walk, then dance
Alicia and Matthew Bates

Alicia Bates, 26, experienced a dream come true on June 24: her marriage to Matthew Bates. But months before her wedding, Bates’ life was upended when she suffered eight strokes over a period of about three weeks.

Bates, an ultrasound technician from Murrieta, was transferred to UC Irvine Medical Center, where she was treated by the expert UCI Health stroke team led by neurologist Wengui Yu, MD.

Bates underwent advanced testing, received medications, completed stroke rehabilitation and returned home. But three days later she suffered two more strokes triggered by a blood clot in her brain. The clot was removed in an extremely delicate surgery, and she spent two weeks at the medical center's acute rehabilitation unit, where she had to learn once again to walk — and dance — in time for her wedding.

Young bride shares her stroke and rehab experiences

After the first strokes, I thought I may not have dodged a bullet completely, but I was not fatally wounded. In rehab, they had me do balance exercises. I had to learn how to walk again basically because my balance was so off. I was there for a week.

The second series of strokes started the morning of April 27. It was about 5:30 in the morning. I had rolled over in bed, and I got incredibly dizzy with my eyes closed. Then I noticed my left foot wasn’t working. I was taken to Rancho Springs Medical Center. While I was in the ER, I had the next stroke. I was paralyzed on the left side and had facial droop. I couldn’t talk anymore. It was pretty scary.

I was transferred to UCI Health again. In the ER, I started feeling better; I could move my left arm and leg again. But Dr. Yu wanted to keep me for observation for at least a day. On April 28, Matthew was calling in my dinner order. All of a sudden I felt like I couldn’t swallow or talk. I was very fortunate that Dr. Yu was on call that night. They discovered a blood clot lodged in my brain stem. They told Matthew and my family that I had only a 40 percent chance of surviving, even with the surgery. This is an extremely risky procedure to go through, but Dr. Yu knew it was my only chance. I’m incredibly grateful to him. I’m also thankful to Rancho Springs for realizing they weren’t capable of handling my situation and getting me to someplace that could handle it. The care I got at UCI Health was absolutely phenomenal.

After surgery, I was in rehab for two weeks. The rehab part was really discouraging because I was having to fight to do the littlest things. I couldn’t even brush my hair. I had significant hearing loss because of the strokes, and my left side was incredibly weak. It was hard. But the wedding was approaching, and it kept me focused.

Matthew and I had no dance ready for our wedding reception. But during the last four days I was in rehab, my physical therapist helped us choreograph and practice our dance. I was limited because of my loss of balance, and my hearing was affected. So I had a lot of challenges to overcome. But I felt confident enough to do it because of my physical therapist.

On our wedding day, for the most part, we kept it together emotionally. We were so excited. But during our first dance, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

— Alicia Bates, stroke patient

— UCI Health Marketing & Communications
Featured in UCI Health Live Well Magazine Fall 2015.