Skip to content

Cowgirl, Huntress, Stroke Survivor: Sue’s Story

An inspirational interview on Sue Jensen’s miracle recovery from a Hemorrhagic Stroke and the difference 5 years can make.

Sue's story. Stroke Survivor. countrybestblog.com

Life before the stroke:
I was raised in northwest British Columbia in the Kispiox Valley, just over an hour North of Smithers, British Columbia. I grew up fishing, hunting, going into the mountains with my horses and with my entire family. I grew up helping my dad with his bucking horses, and competing in rodeos. I competed at the national high school finals in breakaway roping In Gillette, Wyoming.

I met my husband Wade Jensen at my parents lodge, Bear Claw Lodge. I took clients from all over the world on raft trips on the Kispiox River. We did horseback riding, kids camps, Heli-skiing, Mountain trips, hiking etc… I was capable to do all of them.

After dating Wade Jensen for about six months, I took a job with the Bar K 2 Ranch in southern Alberta. I worked side-by-side with Wade, we both knew it was going to be a break it or make it relationship. Either it was going to work or we were going to break up! We got married a year later! I started in the heifer barn working nights. I worked 13 hour days with 1400 first calf heifers. I would work for three months every spring: calving, checking cows, fixing fence and branding. To this day I still work a little bit here and there.

In the summer I headed into the mountains with Wade as a cook. He is a hunting guide and I loved the mountains! In the last couple of years before my stroke I was riding colts in the winter. Breaking them in order to use in the spring to calve and most I would sell. I tried a regular job, just wasn’t for me!

The Stroke:
It was February 2012. I had been riding colts my last day before having a stroke. That evening I lay down, I could feel a migraine coming on. That is the last thing I remember…

Wade could not wake me up in the morning, so he took me to Cardston hospital. At that point they put me in an ambulance to Lethbridge. As soon as the doctors there saw me, they knew I’d had a stroke.

They were going to medevac me out of Lethbridge, but there were wind warnings and so they had to put me in an ambulance to Calgary. Wade called my parents at Bear Claw Lodge, to tell them what happened on the drive from Cardston to Lethbridge. Knowing that there was a huge chance I wasn’t going to make it, my mom made it to Calgary at 2 AM. My dad flew the next day. Wade and his sister Jody tried to keep up to the ambulance, but couldn’t. They were told they were taking me to Foothills Hospital but when they got there they couldn’t find me. It took several trips to different hospitals and back to Foothills again to find me! When the nurse found the bed I was supposed to be in was empty, I can’t imagine what Wade went through. They did find me in surgery, that is why the bed was empty…

It was a Hemorrhagic Stroke and I had a Subarachnoid Hemorrhage. These types of strokes are less common as they are in the 15% range of all strokes. But, they are responsible for approximately 40% of all stroke deaths.

Sue's Story. Stroke Survivor. countrybestblog.com

 

They found out I have TWO blood disorders, and both are clotting disorders. Factor V Leiden thrombophilia is an inherited disorder of blood clotting. Factor II deficiency is a very rare blood clotting disorder. It results in excessive or prolonged bleeding after an injury or surgery. Factor II, also known as prothrombin.

There was so much pressure in my brain from the stroke, they had to remove part of my skull. They took my skull and put it in the freezer for three months! I got a clot in my right leg. They changed my blood thinner from a pill, to getting a needle every morning! I still give myself an injection every day! They put my skull back on at the three-month mark & when that surgery was done, four days later, I had an embolism in both of my lungs! Up until that point I was invincible! I realized that I could die, I hadn’t thought that till then.

Being in a coma and the aftermath:
In my mind, I woke up 3 weeks later (I was told I woke up after two weeks). I couldn’t talk, I thought I must’ve been bucked off of one of my colts. I figured I would be better in a day or two!

I had nightmares about being tied up, (they tied my left arm down because I was ripping all of the tubes off). I remember being put in a train, my arms were tied and had a hat on my head. Not a cowboy hat or a baseball cap (which would make more sense) but a fancy hat, like I was going to the Kentucky derby!

I would have horrible headaches every couple of days at the beginning but it alleviated to just once a week. By the time I came out of the hospital four months later my headaches had stopped!

Most every nurse I had was absolutely amazing to me. I had the easy part, I slept through most of it! The hard part was for my husband and our families! The doctors had given me 3 to 5% chance of surviving, even at that, I would be in a persistent vegetative state. They didn’t expect for me to survive! I apparently moved my hand, (my mom was talking to me), and I grasped her hand. My mom told the nurses and they told her that it was probably just a reflex. So Wade held my hand and told me to squeeze his hand, and I did! I guess the nurses and doctors went a little crazy.

Sue's Story. Stroke Survivor. countrybestblog.com

When I came to, they wanted to know about my hair. They shaved half of my head and waited for me to decide in case I’d be upset if I was completely bald. There was still blood all over in my hair, and I told the nurse to just cut it off! My little sister Kaleigh cleaned up the nurses bad haircut!

 

The Recovery:
I definitely thought I would be walking and talking in a couple of days, boy, was I wrong! It took me three months to walk on my own. I was in a wheelchair for 2 and a half months, used a walker for a month, and when I was released from the hospital after four months I was using a cane!

I couldn’t talk! That was hard for me, I am a talker! There has been some advancement in speech therapy in the last 20 years, that’s a good thing for me! They have learned that they can rewire your brain, it is called neuroplasticity! Before neuroplasticity, they thought that stroke victims would not re-learn their speech. I said words that made no sense! I introduced my brother as “SCREWDRIVER” and was introducing my brother-in-law as “VACUUM.” There were times when a bad word came out at the most inappropriate times! But being stubborn, I just kept talking!

My right arm just hung there, my shoulder kept going out of place. After about 2 ½ months one finger started to move! That was first thing in the morning after Occupational Therapy, by that night I had full movement of my right arm and hand!

I still do not know my letters or numbers! I talk to a computer to do my grocery list. I know my words in my head, and I can read in my head, (very slowly), I just can’t read books very well anymore!

It took me 2 years to get my driver’s license back. I have a ‘field cut’ in my eyes, (an area of the brain that processes light stimulus received from the eyes is damaged). I had an appointment with my rehab doctor in Calgary one year ago, and I was the last who was allowed to get their driver’s license back. Apparently not a lot of people do get their driver’s license back from having a field cut.

My right hand is still recovering. As Gordy, my 2 year-old, is colouring I am learning to colour again. Sometimes Gordy is better! If you ever watched a little child try to eat with a fork or spoon, well, that’s how I look too.

I have slight feeling on the right side of my body. I had constant pain in my shoulder and there was a sharp pain on my upper torso on the right side if people touched it. That eventually has subsided quite a bunch due to finding Somatics!

What kept you going throughout the recovery process?
Stubbornness! They told me I had a stroke after 2 ½ weeks, but I don’t remember them telling me that! In my mind I just had a bad concussion! My entire time I was just going to get better! The entire time I knew I was getting better! I never thought that it might not get better…

Because of my stroke I met some amazing new people in my life. I met a man who alleviated a lot of the pain in my shoulder that I had never met before. Servaas Mes, The Human Health Project, met me a year after my stroke. I would come see him every time I would visit in Smithers, BC. He taught me about Somatics and it has changed my life. Servaas set me up with a craniosacral appointment in Lethbridge and because of that I have found an amazing friend in Dr. Pardip Athwal at Back in Balance. Craniosacral sessions are a huge reason why I got my driver’s license back! My very first appointment I couldn’t see from the middle of my eye to the outside, it was just black. So many sessions with Dr. Pardip helped make my body better!

I have learned to look outside of the box! In six months after having my stroke, I was done with physiotherapy. By January my speech was done and when I left the hospital in Calgary my occupational therapy was done. Those alternative options helped me get better!

Sue's Story. Stroke Survivor. countrybestblog.com
16 months after the stroke!

 

What role has faith played in your recovery?
FAITH….My father-in-law, brother-in-law, and dear friend who married Wade and I, put their hands on me and gave me a blessing before I was taken to Calgary. The doctors were pretty sure that I wouldn’t survive the ambulance ride. I survived the ambulance ride and surpassed any doctors expectations of me. You hear all the time, “It was a miracle,” well the doctors said I was a miracle. When you can’t explain something, it is a miracle. I know what my miracle was! Heavenly father, Jesus Christ, and I know the Holy Ghost was with me throughout! I’ve never been a religious person, I would say I was more spiritual. When you know you should have died and all of the doctors said I shouldn’t have still been here, you have to think who is watching over you…

My faith is stronger than I could ever have known. I now go to church with my family. I don’t know why God saved me, but I figure I owe him big time!

I don't know why God saved me, but I figure I owe him big time. Sue's Story. Stroke Survivor. countrybestblog.com

What role has family played in your recovery?
I had family, (Allen’s and Jensen’s), with me the entire time that I was in Calgary. Having that support and helping me, allowed me to focus on getting better! My sisters & my sister-in-law immediately put a page on Facebook telling everyone that I had had a stroke and that they were setting up an auction to raise money for me. That auction allowed my husband to stay in Calgary instead of staying home to work! That auction allowed me to look at alternative medicine options. The auction allowed family members to fly in and out in order to help me.

When I first had my stroke, there were some friends that grew up in the Kispiox Valley who had a house in Calgary and were gone on vacation for a month, my family got to stay in their house. The rodeo world was amazing to me! A family that I rodeo’d with years ago, the McLeod’s, had a house in Calgary and Wade and my family got to stay there for free. It’s a small community, the rodeo world, and so many came to my aid! Both the rodeo world and my little community in the Northwest BC, were unbelievably amazing!

I will never be able to repay them back what they have done for me and my family! The support I received, not just from my immediate family, but the entire community around me, was huge! You’ll never know how much that support meant!

What advice would you give someone who has had a similar physical setback?
The only advice I could give to someone is to fight! There is no time to feel sorry for yourself, you need to fight as hard as you can to push through. The faster you recover the better it will be for you in the long run. You can always feel sorry for yourself later, right now, you have to get better!

What sort of perspectives have you gained from this trial?
You are loved! It’s amazing. I received an amazing amount of support and love throughout my whole ordeal. My strength was because of all of the people who loved me and supported me. I learned that life is short, enjoy every moment! My strength was my family, that helped push me to get better.

Life Today:

Sue's Story. Stroke Survivor. countrybestblog.com
I went back to work at the ranch with Wade. I figured I could rope again, I was wrong! But I am stubborn, I kept roping that same calf 10 times, but that darn rope just wouldn’t go over that calf’s head! I just knew I could rope, but apparently I need to relearn how to rope! My family has let me try it on my own and will only help if I ask for help! Asking for help is hard! Before the stroke I was very capable and stubborn. I have learned now that it’s OK to ask for help.

Sue's story. Stroke Survivor. countrybestblog.com
My very first Whitetail After my stroke! One shot! I was so excited! He’s not the biggest, but he is the best one to me!

In February it will have been five years since my stroke occurred. Two years ago I became a mom to an amazing little cowboy, Gordy! It is an adventure! I was scared when Gordy came home from the hospital, my right hand-made it harder to dress him, clean him, Etc… but I am loving it! He is a really good boy! I am so lucky. He has been on hunts, climbed mountain tops and has rafted rivers! He loves his horse Butterhead and he loves cows and tractors! My life has completely changed and I love it! Gordy now goes to church & loves nursery! He loves getting on his quad or in the wintertime, the snow machine and takes his hound dogs for a run. He started feeding his hound dogs by himself about a year ago. He would carry a bucket full of food, throw it all over the kennel, and then bring the bucket back to me! Now it’s a lot better!

I started my own business last summer, Rodan + Fields and it has been empowering for me. I don’t know my letters or numbers because of the stroke, but it seems to be working! This business is all online, I talk to my computer, (sometimes my computer says bad words) but I have been loving it.

 

In a nutshell, I have a very full, lucky and blessed life!

 


Sue’s Rodan + Fields link CLICK

Be sure to pin this inspiring story and follow Country Best Blog on Pinterest!

Sue's Story. Stroke Survivor. Whitetail. PIN countrybestblog.com

I don't know why God saved me, but I figure I owe him big time. Sue's Story. Stroke Survivor. countrybestblog.com