August 21, 2014

Elyria
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Elyria Catholic coach on road to recovery

ELYRIA — Desiree Gillespie’s Christmas was filled with joy thanks to the love of her friends, family and a new pup she named Lucky.

But things looked very bleak Nov. 27, when the then-24-year-old experienced a stroke on the left side of her brain.

Just before Thanksgiving, the freshman volleyball coach at Elyria Catholic High School was suffering from a cold and stomach pains.

Her family doctor said if she was not better in several days, she’d need a chest X-ray.

On Nov. 25, her parents took her to the emergency room at EMH Regional Medical Center, where she was diagnosed with pneumonia on her right side and given cough medication.

Still, she felt well enough the next day to go to classes at Cleveland State University, where she is majoring in early childhood education.

But when she got home that day, she stretched out on the couch and complained “my chest is killing me,” her mom, Brenda, recalled.

Brenda Gillespie watched her closely, and her father, Jack, urged her to eat some soup later that night. But as the hours passed, it became evident something more was wrong, even though the family had been warned that her cough medication was very strong.

By 4:30 a.m., she lay moaning on the couch and her right side was weak.

So her parents dressed her and her father and 28-year-old brother Jack Jr. carried her to the car, rushing her back to EMH.

“She tried to talk and just mumbled,” her mother recalled.

By 5:10 a.m., she was aboard a helicopter and on the way to MetroHealth Medical Center. Her parents followed by car and were told by doctors in Cleveland that their daughter had suffered a stroke.

What’s worse, she had two clots — one near the top of her lung and another in her side, which could threaten her life.

Doctors considered operating, but that had serious risks. Instead, they administered medication to break up the clots, and eventually the danger passed.

By the first week of December, their daughter’s condition had improved enough to enter rehabilitation, and she has made huge progress, her parents said.

At first she couldn’t walk. Now, she walks slowly but almost normally.

It will take time for a final diagnosis, but doctors suspect antiphospholipid syndrome, a blood disorder that causes clots, according to Dr. Usharani Tandra, MetroHealth rehabilitation specialist.

Her mother said doctors also said the stroke might be the result of taking birth-control pills, but it will take until late summer to determine for sure whether she has antiphospholipid syndrome — also known as APS.

If she has the disorder, she will probably have to take blood thinners for the rest of her life, but that’s a small price to pay for feeling secure, her parents said.

Larisa Roth, a speech pathologist, has started working with Gillespie an hour a day, five days a week and her parents see a big change.

Roth said therapy included tape recording Gillespie so she could listen to her own rushed, sometimes jumbled speech, Roth said.

“She’s very young and it came out of nowhere, but she really worked through things,” Roth said.

Gillespie, who turned 25 on Dec. 8, will have to sit out a quarter at Cleveland State University, but she might be able to drive again within a month, her parents said.

For the time being, she will have to work on using the right side of her body, including her right hand — her writing hand — which remains weak.

“She’s a fighter. She’s always working,’’ her mother said.

The new Alaskan Malamute pup donated by Candyland Kennels of Berlin Heights will help. Her mother’s uncle, Tom Limer, and his wife, Freddy of Amherst, helped arrange for the donation and delivered the pup on Christmas Eve.

The dog was a promise from her mother while her daughter lay in her hospital bed. The family had had a Siberian husky when Desiree was a child.

“It was something to fight for,” Desiree said.

Fortunately, she’s still covered by her father’s insurance at Ford Motor Co., where he is an assembler.

Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or cleise@chroniclet.com.