When Melissa Fink was pregnant with her first son, Miles, eight years ago, she was the model of a healthy pregnancy. “I worked out the whole pregnancy, everything was great – no blood pressures issues, nothing,” she explains. And then the unthinkable happened.
Days after Miles birth, Melissa got very ill. “I woke up with the worst headache ever – actually more painful than labor,” Melissa recalls. “I remarked to my husband that it felt like the blood was pushing through the vessels in my brain.” Her husband Herschel rushed her to the hospital in the middle of the night with newborn Miles in tow.
Her blood pressure had spiked right after delivering Miles, so when she arrived at the hospital, they treated her as if it was high blood pressure causing the problem. “In reality, I had had a stroke, but they misdiagnosed me and sent me home – and I got worse,” Melissa recalls.
This time when Melissa returned to the hospital, she was unable to walk and had lost function in her left arm. She was sent to a rehabilitation hospital for 10 days and went through extensive rehabilitation to learn how to walk again. “I started in a wheelchair, then a walker and then a cane,” she says. “When I came home I still had to do physical therapy for awhile – it was crazy.”
To this day, the doctors are not exactly sure what caused the stroke, but they believe it was CNS (Central Nervous System) Vasculitis – an uncommon disorder that causes inflammation of the blood vessels. While the immune system usually works to protect the body, it can sometimes become “overactive” and attack the body. In most cases of vasculitis, something causes an immune or “allergic” reaction in the blood vessel walls. “Your immune system kind of ‘shuts down’ while you are pregnant, so as not to attack the fetus,” Melissa explains. “They think that after I delivered, it just came back with a vengeance and attacked the vessels in my brain.”
Fortunately, Herschel was self-employed, so he was able to drive Melissa to her daily doctor’s appointments, take her to physical therapy, watch the baby – all this while also trying to work. Her mother helped out too. There were times when Herschel got into a babysitting bind and had to rely on others. “I learned years later that sometimes my husband would drop the baby off with friends of ours. And I found out that one of my good friend’s mom also watched him while he was a baby,” jokes Melissa. “I didn’t even know any of this [at the time].”
Years later, when she became pregnant with her second son, Taylor, Melissa was terrified. “I went to a high-risk practice. My rheumatologist was my main doctor, so he was there for the whole pregnancy and afterward he was on call so we could text him. He even came to my house afterward to make sure everything was OK,” she says. “I felt better because I was so closely monitored, but it was still scary.”
Melissa had no complications after Taylor was born, but she still has lingering problems from her stroke. “I still have memory issues and some sensory issues on my left side – all things only I notice,” she explains.
Battling back after this crisis provided Melissa with a “can-do” attitude and in 2016 she realized her dream of being a business owner when she purchased Girly Girlz in Scottsdale. So now her days can be filled with everything pink and sparkly and her nights can be filled with her three favorite boys – Herschel, Miles and Taylor.