In 2007, Spanish teacher Beth Finarelli, who was seven months pregnant, went to the teachers’ lounge, and started to feel strange. She thought no one could understand what she was saying, and she was slurring her speech. She felt the left side of her face droop and then a pressure in her head – a pressure she said eventually felt like a knife digging into her.
Beth told the other teachers, and they called the nurse’s office. Once the nurse saw her, the school administration called 911 and her husband.
Then there was an ambulance ride, the dispatcher telling the hospital at Anne Arundel Medical Center to assemble the team of doctors, the rush of doctors at the hospital, and Beth telling the doctors they needed to save the baby. Never does she remember hearing the word “stroke.” She remembers seeing her husband come into the hospital and then she started going unconscious.
During that time, she felt like she was dying, as her body went limp. Then, in a vision, she saw her friend Erin Hammond, who died earlier that year. Erin told Beth she couldn’t die, and then everything went black.
Beth woke four days later, unable to speak or walk, her parents and husband at the bedside and her baby born, staying in the neo-natal intensive care unit.
From there, she and her son’s life became a series of hospital and rehabilitation appointments. Young Michael’s lungs weren’t fully formed, and his early days in the NICU were difficult for the family.
Because Beth had recovering of her own to do, she and her child could only see each other during special visits. Using video cameras and cell phones, Beth could see and hear her child. They both were released from the hospital in March 2007.
Beth tried rehab at a hospital in Maryland, but was unsatisfied with her progress. Luckily there was a renowned rehabilitation center close to her parents’ home in Dallas, that offered her technology she didn’t have in Maryland… Heinz Rehab Hospital.
The stroke drastically affected Beth and her family, as she needed to re-learn how to use the left side of her body. “My baby and I learned to walk together,” Beth says. While she was taking her first steps in rehabilitation, her son was taking his first steps, too.
“There have been a lot of days I’ve cried, but a lot of days I smile, because I have my son and I have my husband,” said Beth, now 29.
Because Beth lost the use of her left side, she continues to work on developing the nerves and muscles in her body and re-train her brain to use her left hand and leg. Her support system includes her parents, her brother James and sister Sarah, and her husband – who has been a pillar of strength for the whole family, she said.
Throughout the five years since her stroke, Beth has remained upbeat, and encourages people to be aware that strokes can happen to people at a young age. She and her husband are thinking of writing a book to tell their story.
As she says, she and her husband were married, had a child, and she almost died all in the matter of seven months. “There is a silver lining here,” Beth said. “It was a tragedy, but my son is normal and healthy.”