Last September, stroke was the farthest thing from Jaime Nephew’s mind. After all, she was only 39 years old when persistent numbness in her face and hands landed her in the ER at TriStar Southern Hills Medical Center. Doctors diagnosed her with a carotid artery dissection, a separation of the layers of the artery wall that supply blood to the head and brain and the most common cause of stroke in young adults.

Today, Jaime, a technical operations analyst for LifePoint Health, is a proud stroke survivor, and in honor of American Stroke Month, she’s the newest FACE of TriStar. Jaime sat down with us the day before her 40th birthday to talk about her experience with TriStar Health and to spread awareness about the fact that stroke doesn’t discriminate against age.

Stroke survivor Jaime Nephew is this month's FACE of TriStar.

Stroke survivor Jaime Nephew is this month’s FACE of TriStar.

When did you begin to realize that something might be wrong?

Now, looking back, I realize that the symptoms started about a month before I had my stroke, which was in September. I was having some numbness in my hands and numbness in my mouth. It was something that would last a few minutes, so I wasn’t really concerned. I thought maybe I was low on vitamins, or it was just stress or something. And on September 6, I woke up with no feeling in my hand. I wasn’t able to put my makeup on. I couldn’t use my arm or my hand, and I was having trouble putting on my shoes. I still went to work, but I couldn’t type, and I was getting really frustrated. But because of my age and being otherwise healthy, I didn’t think anything was wrong. I finally went to urgent care after a couple more hours. They thought I had a pinched nerve, but they definitely recognized something was wrong, so the doctor said, “I’ll give you a sling because you can’t use your arm, and I’ll give you a note, so you can stay out of work.” I went back to work though. I just thought if that’s all it is, I’ll type with my left hand. That was a Tuesday, and they had me follow up with a primary care physician that Friday. She said she thought it was lack of B-12, so they ran some B-12 tests. I said that’s OK, no big deal, and I bought some vitamins and started popping those to try to get my B-12 up. But that Saturday, my face went numb, and I couldn’t pick anything up; I couldn’t even really eat. I was actually in tears at that point. I wasn’t even nervous that something was wrong; I was just frustrated. My ex-boyfriend said, “We’re going to the hospital,” and that’s when we came to TriStar Southern Hills at 10 p.m. on Saturday.

Jaime Nephew, FACE of TriStar

What happened when you got to TriStar Southern Hills?

The check in process was extremely quick. It wasn’t too busy here, which was great. They got me into a bed in the ER within 10 minutes. The doctor came right in and ordered a CTA, and they found something but nothing alarming. They just said, “We found something. We want to do an MRI, and we want to admit you.” I thought that was amazing because my symptoms were so vague. It wasn’t like I had these glaring symptoms. I didn’t have the drooping mouth. I could still speak. The entire week I was speaking in meetings and stuff. So, I was really impressed that they found something so quickly, and they were able to admit me. I was in a room in a bed probably by 11:30 p.m., so it was really quick, and the doctors were great. The nursing staff was amazing. It was an all over good experience.

When did you realize you’d had a stroke?

The next morning, they brought me in for an MRI. It took them awhile to get back to me, but I still wasn’t nervous. I take everything in stride — I’m not a worry wart or anything. The doctor came in and told me I’d had a stroke, and honestly I didn’t get scared, I wasn’t upset or anything, I was like, “OK what do we do now?”

They rolled in the telemedicine doctor (see last month’s FACE of TriStar to learn more about this technology), which is absolutely amazing. They brought him in, and it was really cool because he was talking, asking me the questions. It really zoomed in to look at my eyes and everything. The nurse did the actual physical exam and did everything the doctor told him to do. He gave me a little more information about what happened, and what they found, where the stroke was, and stuff like that. And then from there, they transported me to TriStar Centennial to receive a more specialized level of care.

Jaime Nephew, FACE of TriStar

How long were you at TriStar Centennial?

It’s kind of fuzzy, but I think I was there for about a week. Dr. (Adrian Jarquin) Valdivia was the best doctor. He brought in a picture of my MRI and sat and talked to us for so long and answered all of our questions. He put me at ease and made me feel really comfortable.

Did you have to change your lifestyle in any way?

Dr. V told me that I have to have a glass of red wine and piece of dark chocolate every night. I’m horrible about that though. I don’t really drink a lot so every once in a while I’ll do it, but I’m not very compliant with it. I love dark chocolate, but I just never think to buy it. During that time, I was also diagnosed with hypothyroidism, so it’s a little bit harder to lose weight. They did recommend the Mediterranean diet, so I’m trying to follow that. I’m on a couple of blood thinners, and the medicine for the hypothyroidism, so it definitely added to my morning regimen.

Dr. (Michael J.) Kaminski (a neurologist at the TriStar Medical Group’s Frist Clinic) is adamant that I’m 100 percent healthy and that it’s not going to happen again. I’m glad about that, but I also know there is no guarantee, so I’m a little more conscious of how I’m feeling

Jaime Nephew, FACE of TriStar

What advice do you have for women reading this?

To listen to your body. It doesn’t matter how healthy you are or how young you are. If something is happening that doesn’t feel right or is outside of the ordinary, get it checked out. Looking back, I should have been concerned that my hand or my mouth was going numb, but I am not a person who goes to the doctor. I am the furthest from a hypochondriac you would ever get. You have to force me to go the doctor; I have to be on my deathbed, but we shouldn’t be like that. The biggest thing is to trust your body.

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What are you doing for your 40th birthday?

Now, turning 40, I’m looking back at all the things I haven’t done. I’ve always wanted to sing, so I have a consultation with a vocal coach tomorrow night on my birthday. I would love to be able to sing worship at a church. I am very into Christian music. I belong to Cross Point Church, and I volunteer there as a greeter on the weekends. My heart is so full just listening to the music, so I would love to be a part of that.

Thank you to Jaime Nephew for sharing your journey with us. To learn more about stroke warning signs and treatment options, click here.

FACES of TriStar is sponsored by TriStar Health. Photography by Grannis Photography.

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