This month, I wanted to highlight a woman who I feel is a lot like a typical working mother...except that she has lived through two strokes all before the age of 35. I feel like her story touches on many different areas that are very relatable to many people and I hope that it inspires you through wherever you are in life.
I would like to introduce you to July’s Woman of the Month - Crystal Avila of Buena Park, CA
💙 Sonia G.
📸 IG @krop_photography
Sonia: Crystal, tell me a little about who you are today.
Crystal: I am 35 years old, married with 4 beautiful children. I currently work as a realtor and I am loving every moment of my life!
Sonia: Give me a glimpse into how your life was.
Crystal: I met my husband Mike when I was 17 through our sisters, We had our first child at the age of 20. I always had jobs in between children but nothing I loved. I walked around with the feeling of inferiority. I felt left out because everyone knew what they wanted to do and were successful. I felt as if I was left behind since I had a family so young. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do in my life, and I really didn’t feel that the jobs that I had were for me. That’s when I decided to go back to school to figure out what I wanted to do, so I chose to go to Cal State Fullerton. Within 5 long years I walked out of CSUF with a Bachelor of Science in Human Services.
As soon as I graduated with my degree, I knew it was time to join the workforce again. I applied at two places, the first a marketing firm that was yet again another cubicle job putting my head down working like a robot. The second job I applied for was at Revolve Clothing. This opportunity was closer to home so I went to an interview to see how it went. I immediately fell in love! I worked in the fashion studio and I saw people who worked there that were just like me. I really couldn't even imagine that a job could be so intriguing. Every where I looked there was fashion. I felt the creative soul inside come alive again. Although, it was not in my area of study there was no denying the passion, fun, and creativeness I felt inside. I began working for the Men’s division at Revolve and it was fun, I learned that you can be creative and still have a business side. I didn't need to conform to a box to be successful. It gave me the opportunity to rediscover myself. From that day on I decided to be happy and never work at a place that wasn’t for me again. There is no feeling like loving what you do. I can honestly say I never understood that until I felt it inside.
Life was going pretty good, I’m happy in life and so here comes baby number four.
My pregnancy went well. I labored at home and felt so at peace and happy to be pregnant. Out of all my pregnancies, this was the first time I felt I was able to enjoy being pregnant because it seemed the other ones were during difficult times.
Sonia: When would you say the pregnancy changed?
Crystal: The day I went in for my final check in for my pregnancy is when things became different. During a weekly test the babies movements were very minimal. I was immediately rushed into hospital and they ruptured my bag. Originally, I had decided that I didn’t want drugs and was very specific on how I wanted to labor. After 6 hours I gave in and took epidural. The doctor inserted the needle three times with great difficulty due to some scoliosis. It was so painful that I began to cry... I tried to get the doctor to stop, but he was head strong. Once the epidural was complete I was laid back to try and take a nap. The nurse checked me and she gave me the news that I was crowing and we went straight into pushing.
This was the moment I felt things had changed. I couldn't feel a thing and was pushing as much as I could.
After the baby was born, I had a headache but disregarded the pain because I felt it was because my body was recovery from recently having a baby. The headache pain kept coming and going. I wrote off the headaches and neck pain because I was nursing. I kept moving with my routine. I started taking Tylenol, then ibuprofen to help ease the pain and they did help but the head ache kept lingering. I went 13 days doing this because I was trying to push it away, thinking it wasn’t a big deal. Which as women mothers especially we tend to do.
I felt like as a mom, I had to push through..too many people were depending on me...my kids, my husband, work, chores, etc. I thought that I needed to be the last one eat and sleep...I was always go go go. I disregarded the signs my body had been giving me. Something was brewing inside. I didn't make time to rest I had one motive and that was to be a mom and keep moving.
On the thirteenth day, I remember waking up like just another day. However, when I woke up the room was spinning, I tried to sleep it off but that didn’t change it. The room kept spinning and I began to sweat what felt like buckets of water and started to throw up.
I glanced over at my youngest son Elijah (2 years old) and realized my vision is so blurry that I was seeing three of him and stars. I knew I was going to faint so I called 911. I told them I had two small babies and they assured me that they were on their way. I called my mom and sister but no answer. I felt like I had the weight of a ton of brinks on my shoulders which caused me to fall down. At this point I was on the floor about to faint with the worst head ache of my life. I remember being so confused and knew it wasn't good. I almost felt like I was going to die.
My mom called back and I had just enough strength left to tell her I was going to faint. I had her call on speaker and she heard the paramedics arrive so my mom yelled from the speaker phone to the fire department at my front door to "come upstairs" where I was. I was taken to the ambulance on my way to the hospital, but I had to leave my babies with the police and social workers.
They diagnosed me with the flu on the spot but they didn’t know that I really had just had a stroke. I arrived at the hospital and was diagnosed with postpartum headaches. I sat in triage for 8 hours and my headache kept getting worse. The head pain was worse than my worst migraine so my mom demanded a CAT scan. At that point they just classified me as a new mom with possible flu and postpartum head aches. About 5 minuets after the CT a whole team showed up in my room to confirm our worst nightmare.They simply said my CT was abnormal. Looking back I know I was so critical at that point they didn't want to alarm me. I had torn two vertebral arteries and suffered a stroke. My left artery was 30% severed and my right artery where the stroke occurred was severed 90%.
I was rushed to USC Keck Hospital to the Neurological ICU. They put me through so many test to try and figure out how something so severe could happen. From CTs, MRIs, an Angiogram, a spinal tap, genetic testing, and countless blood test. All to connect the dots being that I was healthy, young, just had a baby, and had no previous health issues.
After 2 weeks of observation I was Ok'd to go home and continue resting and most of all bond with my infant. I was home for 1 day on countless medications and I suffered the second stroke. This time when I went back to the hospital I was deemed detrimental. I was treated as a “high alert”. Unfortunately, I indeed suffered another stroke in front of my children and worst of all my artery tore more.
During all the chaos of the hospital again. In so much pain I chose to imagine myself in a happy place. As Im imagining my self out of my body out of the pain and chaos I see my grandma who had passed 3 years prior. I saw her smiling down a light isle. I felt that I was potentially dying. I wanted to join my grandma because she seemed so happy, peaceful and I missed her. Just then I heard a strong “NO” in my inner ears. A deep mans voice. I opened my eyes and I asked the people around me if they heard and nobody knew what I was talking about. I know this was God. I am convinced that God was telling me that it wasn’t my time. I was overcame with peace and I knew I was gonna be okay. Even though the doctors had just told my husband things didnt look good for me. I wasn’t scared anymore. From that day, I have lived everyday happy, and in faith. Ill never forget the feeling I had at my worst of knowing I was going to be Okay. I’m not afraid of anything anymore, not even death. I was in the hospital for close to a month. I've never been so glad to be home with my family.
Sonia: Some warning signs to look out for:
Crystal: I had many of the typical Stroke and Vertebral Artery dissection symptoms:
•Dizziness (balance issues)
•Severe head ache
•Rapid Eye movement
It has not be an easy journey to recovery. I had to be patient with myself. I had to slowly walk again, I would forget, I couldn't remember things, I couldn’t be alone or drive for three months. I feel like the hardest out of all of them was that I couldn’t carry my daughter for almost a year. I had a weight restriction. This killed me inside. Thankfully, I had such strong support from my family and friends. From driving me around, making me laugh, helping me shop at the market, listening me cry out of frustration, cleaning my house, bringing dinners to my family, to loving me. I couldn't have made it through the scariest time in my life without them.
When I was in the hospital I was told how rare it was what I went through and that I actually survived. Once I was able to use my phone and do some research I realized that there were thousands out there with the exact same stories! Some with torn arteries and some that experienced a only a stroke. I am now part of a couple Facebook support groups. I always will try and tell people what happened to me because in a blink of an eye my whole life was changed forever. At times I still cannot believe what happened to me. Its important to know that you're not alone when you're going through difficult times.
I took about 2 years of taking it easy which is something I never had done before. I wanted nothing more than to be with my kids. We did play dates, went to the library, laughed, and I wanted nothing more than to love on them. During all of this I decided to leave my job in fashion and love life.
Sonia: How your life is now?
Crystal: I really feel in my heart that I needed this life change. Now I don’t get stressed or worried about things like I would have in the past. I realize that I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore. I see things differently along with life and nature, I see beauty in so many things now.
I prayed and prayed for God to show me what was next in my path. That was something I never did before. I've never felt in tune with God and never felt so grateful for the breath in my lungs. This past new year I finally felt mentally strong. I felt like a better version of my old self. I knew that I wanted to go back to work but had some criteria this time. I wasn't going to rush into anything. I prayed and waited. One day it just hit me like a ton of bricks. I knew I needed to work in real estate along side my best friend. I knew that it was a career that I could be creative, analytical, and most of all myself. It was very important for me to make a conscious decision as to what my next steps were going to be. I knew God was pointing me in the right direction. With that being said its one of the best decisions Ive ever made and am so grateful for being given the opportunity to shine.
My final thoughts:
Women and Men please slow down and listen to your body whether that is to Rest, Read a Book, Take a Nap, or whatever your body needs. I ignored my bodies signs that something wasn't ok for days. Women - Take time to heal after you have a baby all around - Physically, emotionally, and mentally. Also, most importantly if you have a severe headache after having a baby you MUST go to the hospital right away!
Secondly, be grateful for every moment we are granted. Life can change in the blink of an eye. I now choose to be a light to people and am a walking miracle.
Thank You Sonia for Choosing me to be able to bring awareness to Labor Complications, Young Stroke/VAD Survivors, and the Grace of God.
My favorite verse that I cling to now is 2 Corinthians 5:7 For we walk by faith, not by sight.