By Starrla Cray
WINSTED, MN Although she still has pain, dizziness, and other health challenges, 31-year-old Amelia Franet of Cokato has made impressive strides since a stroke flipped her life upside down last December.
“When this first happened, I couldn’t dress myself, I couldn’t shower, I couldn’t go to the bathroom by myself,” she said.
For Franet a wife, mother of two young daughters, and nursing assistant at Cokato Manor this sudden shift came as a shock. Franet was used to taking care of others, not the other way around.
The day before, Franet had been volunteering at Holy Trinity Elementary School. She remembers having a headache, but didn’t think much of it at the time.
At 4 a.m. the next morning, however, Franet woke up with searing pain, and told her husband, William, that she was going to the emergency room.
At the hospital, a brain scan showed bleeding, and she was transported to Abbott-Northwestern Hospital. She spent five days in the neurology intensive care unit, but the bleeding didn’t resolve. Franet was told she had a brain arteriovenous malformation (AVM), which is a tangle of abnormal blood vessels. Brain surgery was the next course of action, but it wasn’t guaranteed to work.
“They told my husband that 40 percent of people make it through the surgery,” Franet said.
Although Franet beat the odds, she suffered a stroke during surgery.
When she woke up, Franet didn’t recognize her husband or children at first.
“I lost a lot of my memory,” she said. “It was scary.”
Franet was able to return home after 27 days in the hospital, but she was in a wheelchair, and nothing felt the same as before. Her long hair was cut short from surgery, her right side motor functions were impaired, and medical bills were piling up.
“I cried and cried and cried for days,” Franet recalled.
Franet is grateful for the support she’s received from family, friends, and community members. Her mother, Vickie Franet, and aunt, Donna Koopman, help on a daily basis, and a benefit was organized in April to help with medical expenses. A few friends who have been instrumental in Franet’s recovery include Adam and Kim Pickar, Eva Grangroth, and Erin Alma. Franet also appreciates the support from Holy Trinity School in Winsted, especially teacher Marnie Ebensperger, who helped Hunter through the transition.
Step by step
At home, Franet worked hard to get out of the wheelchair, using a walker as much as possible. Little by little, she began walking on her own.
She still uses the walker when needed, but does physical therapy at home to keep improving. The exercises, such as walking heel to toe in a straight line, help with balance, strength, and coordination.
She also does a daily workout called 21 Day Fix. Several routines are available, focusing on upper body, lower body, pilates, cardio, or yoga.
“My kids do it with me, so that helps,” Franet said.
She generally avoids the yoga workouts, though, because of dizziness when her head is lowered. At night, she prevents the problem by sleeping sitting up.
Another change is that Franet writes left-handed, due to issues with her right side. She gets headaches regularly, and she has pain on the right side of her head that feels similar to a tight ponytail that’s been in too long.
Franet also has drop foot (difficulty lifting the front part of her foot), and part of her face is still numb.
Because of her speech and unsteady gait, some people have commented that she is drunk, and shouldn’t be exposing her girls to that lifestyle.
Franet’s aunt noted that “these types of comments take a toll, and make an already difficult time harder and more depressing. A lesson to us is not to judge others or a situation without the facts.”
Faith and family
Franet is fighting to stay strong through the journey, and hopes to return to work a few hours a week soon, serving as a diversional aide. Currently, she volunteers a few days a week at her daughter’s preschool class at Holy Trinity.
Franet, who attends Holy Trinity Catholic Church, said faith has always been important in her life, and it has gotten stronger in the past year.
Her faith has been tested multiple times in the past, as well.
In December 2012, for example, Franet’s father, Ken, who had been exposed to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam, was diagnosed with stage IV small cell carcinoma cancer in his lungs and hip. Franet was her father’s primary caregiver until he passed away in September 2013.
Franet and her siblings also cared for Franet’s mother, who suffered third-degree burns on 40 percent of her body in February 2013, due to a faulty water heater.
“It’s crazy all the stuff we go through, but when you think about it, God wouldn’t give you more than you can handle.” Franet said.