FORT WORTH, TX (KXAS/NBC) - A Texas couple is spreading the word that strokes in children are more common than many think.
Mandy Bradford said they never imagined their daughter, Ayanna, 5, had sustained a stroke when she got sick in early June.
"Stroke in kids is a lot more common than people think," said Dr. Fernando Acosta Jr, Ayanna's pediatric neurologist.
According to the National Stroke Association, six out of every 100,000 children will have a stroke this year.
Ayanna, known as Yaya, was perfectly healthy on June 1 and set to graduate pre-kindergarten.
But the next day, she complained of a stomachache and headache. It quickly got worse. Her parents rushed her to Cook Children's Medical Center.
Within a few hours, doctors ruled out a stomach ailment and gave her an MRI.
"That's when they pulled us aside and said, 'It's not good. You're going to the ICU right now. She had a stroke,'" Bradford said. "I can't tell you how hard it was to see the picture and see that side of her brain, how swollen it was and how different it looked from a normal brain."
It was just the beginning of a long medical journey that lasted the entire summer.
Ayanna's heart became infected and began to fail. Doctors told her parents she would probably need a heart transplant or a pacemaker.
"She's a fighter," her mother said. "She's a tough cookie."
Ayanna also had problems with her gallbladder and pancreas. Doctors removed part of her skull because of swelling in her brain.
The stroke has made it difficult for her to speak and use her left arm and leg.
Ayanna has made real progress but still cannot walk on her own or say more than a word or two at a time.
"Watching her in therapy and how she's progressed, it's amazing," Bradford said.
She has a bubbly personality and likes to draw.
"You look at her and she smiles all the time and she's happy," Acosta said. "So the personality she has is really going to serve her well to recover from this stroke."
But Acosta said she will likely face lifelong challenges and may never fully regain the use of her left side.
About two years ago, Cook Children's Hospital started a stroke clinic to give kids such as Ayanna the special attention they need.
Her parents want to spread the word that strokes do happen in children. They started a nonprofit group called the ANE Pediatric Stroke Foundation. They also document Ayanna's journey on a website.
"This does happen to kids," Bradford said. "It could be your kid. You never know. It's nothing you ever expect."
After more than three months in the hospital, it could be several more weeks before Ayanna can go home.
"I try to save my crying spells for when she does something great, like today when she moved her arm," her mother said. "I keep telling myself I have nothing to be upset about, nothing to fear; she's here."
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