From outside Ralph Eyler Field on July 15, Marshfield senior Ashlyn Grier appeared just as she had during most of Fourth of July weekend.
It is a testament to Grier’s personality that she showed no signs of distress or apprehension. Her Saturday over the holiday was nothing unusual for the occasion –– fireworks and time spent at the lake –– followed by an atypical, scary Sunday evening.
Grier’s mother, Lindy, recalls the details that Ashlyn can’t from what happened at her boyfriend Andrew’s house. She lost speech. She was blinking, but couldn’t talk. Something was visibly wrong.
When help arrived, Ashlyn was unable to hold her right hand up; that side of her body was unresponsive. Transported to Mercy Hospital in Springfield, Ashlyn appeared to start seizing during the attempt to do an MRI.
“Her whole right side was curled up,” Lindy said. “It went on for two hours. … It was the worst thing I’ve seen a child [go through], and especially [to] my own daughter.”
Eventually, technicians were able to conduct the MRI, and it revealed a blood clot in Ashlyn’s brain. The medical team administered a blood-thinning medicine called TPA, or tissue plasminogen activator, given to patients with strokes caused by blood clots and shown to produce more complete recoveries when done so in a timely manner. Ashlyn then flew off with her father, Chris, to Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis.
Fortunately, an angiogram taken at Barnes revealed that the blood clot was no longer present.
“It was wonderful that it stopped everything and she was able to get oxygen to her brain,” Lindy said.
Ashlyn remained on a ventilator until Tuesday evening, but when she awoke, her speech was largely incoherent.
“We couldn’t understand what she was saying,” Lindy said. “It was the hardest thing to hear your child, not be able to understand them, and wonder if that’s what we have to go forward with.”
After that, Ashlyn is able to start filling in some of the timeline herself. Her first post-incident memories are talking on Wednesday, but even then, the detail is scarce. “I don’t really know what was going through my mind [laughs]; I couldn’t really think,” she said. “It’s not as clear as you would think.”
Assistance with her speech, and walking, was part of in-patient therapy, but Ashlyn’s rapid progress was such that she left Barnes without the requisite of a wheelchair by Friday evening.
“She had a lot of prayers going up,” Lindy said. “The doctors were amazed; everyone was amazed.”
After the family left Barnes, the diagnosis of what caused the stroke changed: Ashlyn was born with ASD, or Atrial Septal Defect. It is defined as a defect in the septum between the heart’s two upper chambers, or atria. The usual fetal opening between those chambers permits blood to funnel away from the lungs, but after birth, it typically shuts, or becomes significantly smaller after several weeks or months. For those with ASD, it remains larger than it should be.
A minimally invasive follow-up procedure is required Friday to repair the defect. It used to require open-heart surgery, but now is conducted through the main artery and vein in the leg.
What’s been on Grier’s mind in the short time between leaving the hospital and awaiting the procedure? Not much, she says.
“I’m just ready to get it over with,” Ashlyn said. “I’m really not worried.”
Unable to find a reason for her sunny disposition, Mom attributes it to the substantial progress Ashlyn has shown each day.
“She sees it herself,” Lindy said. “And she’s ready to get up and work on that [home therapy] in the mornings. She’s pushing.”
In addition to some speech therapy, getting her right side back to the same strength will be the goal. Continuing to rattle off reasons for motivation, Lindy offers the reminder that volleyball season is approaching, and that Ashlyn will be a senior. Last season, she racked up 62 kills and 33 blocks for the Lady Jays’ 25-win team.
Ashlyn has already resumed working with a trainer in Nixa, and the best of her athletic performance may be yet to come, considering one side of her heart is currently working harder than the other.
Over a summer where little has happened for most, Grier has been through an unusual scare for someone her age. Yet she remains remarkably unfazed.
“Yeah, [I feel fortunate], but I also don’t feel like anything’s happened because I couldn’t remember anything,” she said.
But something did happen, and the outpouring of prayers and positivity from the community on Facebook posts isn’t insignificant.
“They mean a lot,” Ashlyn said.
“At a certain point, you don’t feel like saying thank you is enough, adds Lindy. “It’s been heartwarming and overwhelming to see the outreach of everybody wanting to do something to help and support her. It’s quite the community we live in.”
Bryan can be followed on Twitter @BryanEversonMF.