A teenage sports fan has been left recovering from a paralyzing major stroke which doctors mistakenly diagnosed as a migraine. James Finnerty, 15, from Parma Heights, Ohio, who plays both rugby and football, woke up suffering with a severe headache last April and immediately began vomiting.
His parents became particularly concerned when the teen appeared confused and couldn’t comprehend a note left on the kitchen counter so rushed him to the emergency room.
Once there doctors misdiagnosed him with a migraine before his mother, who’s a nurse, insisted on a second opinion.
A CT scan discovered he was actually suffering from a pediatric stroke and was close to death.
James and his family have now spoken of his miraculous road to recovery with the teenager now back in school although permanently barred from the sports field where they believe his injuries may have begun.
‘She kept yelling at the doctors,’ said James, recalling his mother’s reaction in the emergency room.
‘I remember 95 percent of it. My left side was gone and I couldn’t move at all,’ he told ABC News.
James was held in his local hospital for 25 hours before his mother insisted he be transferred to her workplace – the Cleveland Clinic.
She disagreed with the diagnosis of a migraine and it turns out she was right – her son had a torn artery and had swelling in his brain as a result of a stroke.
Doctors now believe the injury was the result of a hit in a rugby game which came four days before and caused a clot.
He was operated on twice at the clinic and left with a titanium plate in the back of his head.
He suffered a second stroke during his treatment and lost the use of speech and movement.
In the weeks that followed he was unable to communicate with his family and was so confused he referred to his 14-year-old brother as ‘Mailbox’
Yet despite the seriousness of his injuries after a year of physiotherapy, the determined young man is well on the road to recovery
‘He can go through this and have a smile on his face like it’s no big deal and laugh about his weaknesses,’ said his mother Stefania Finnerty, 42.
‘He’s always been go-lucky and always so dedicated to his fitness that he wanted to do the best he could…He just works so hard.’
‘Even with me being a neuro-nurse, I didn’t think this could happen. I do feel that any child in sports who has possibly hit his head or neck or chest and they are feeling different should get scanned.’
Mrs Finnerty was recovering from breast cancer at the time of the accident but sat at her son’s bedside for two months alongside her husband, Thomas, who is a police dispatcher and runs his own gardening business.
‘I would go through cancer and chemo a hundred times over than to deal with this. To have your child [sick] — there are no descriptions. So I had to put myself on a back burner because I was so focused on my child,’ she said.
James now suffers some balance problems and is permanently barred from the sports field. He is also at risk of having another stroke in the future.
According to the Cleveland Clinic around 3,000 children a year suffer a stroke with many left with long-term disability as a result.
Stroke often occurs as a result of injury on the sports field.
‘It’s a common story,’ Dr. Neil Friedman, James’ doctor, told the broadcaster. ‘There was initial damage to the artery, and he did weightlifting and extended the tear and stroked his cerebellum. It wasn’t for another 25 hours that he had progressive worsening of the headache that we realized he had a stroke.… The brain was basically being pushed down through an opening in the skull.’
James is particularly grateful to his school friends who visited him at hospital and set up a Facebook group called Prayers for James Finnerty.
‘My son has the best friends ever, Jamie and my family and I are truly blessed,’ Thomas Finnerty wrote on Facebook
‘They were terrific,’ James, now 16, told ABC. ‘They were there every day and have seen the worst of the worst. Cleaning my room had to be disgusting. I felt bad about that.’
However the high school student refuses to be defined by his injury.
‘I don’t like to use the word ‘stroke’ anymore. I just say that I got my head messed up,’ he told www.cleveland.com.