On August 7, 2011, Kelly Aston attended an event for her church youth group. While there, the group began a volleyball game that Kelly participated in, and while playing, she began complaining of a headache and trouble seeing out of her right eye. Kelly made the decision to stop the game and rest. However, later that evening at dinner, she started showing other serious signs of distress such as slurred speech and the inability to control her limbs.
Kelly’s family, who was also at the event, immediately rushed her to Rainbow Children’s hospital, where the doctors came to the conclusion that Kelly, who now seemed completely rigid, had experienced a blood clot within her brain stem.
Kelly underwent hundreds of tests to determine why this blood clot had collected, but because she was wearing braces, it took a lot of time to determine what had actually gone wrong. That is because her braces actually interfered with her MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) reading that would provide the necessary information for the cause of her condition. It wasn’t until almost two weeks later that doctors were able to diagnose Kelly as a stroke victim.
This diagnosis was a shock to the Aston family. Mrs. Robin Aston, mother of Kelly and Spanish teacher at AHS, and her husband both thought that Kelly was experiencing seizures due to her working so hard at her job and sporting events. Also, Kelly had undergone scoliosis surgery prior to the incident so they assumed that this procedure might also be a cause of the clot. But, the doctors insisted that her stress and surgery were unrelated.
Once diagnosed, Kelly left Akron Children’s Rainbow hospital in route to the number one recommended place for her recovery, the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. Here, Kelly would receive therapy from professionals specializing in her condition. But, doctors in Akron were unsure of just how far Kelly would recover, if at all.
The family then transferred their 15-year-old daughter to Chicago and Mrs. Aston took to the task of driving back and forth from Chicago with Kelly’s 15-year-old sister, Annie Aston, AHS. The two eldest sisters, Lauren and Lindsay Aston, both attend college within the Chicago area, so they were also able to travel to visit their younger sister Kelly every weekend.
It was eventually time to start this school year, but Kelly was not even able to sit up at this point. She could communicate only by blinking her eyes twice for yes and once for no.
Staff and students of AHS pulled together to help the family. Gas cards were purchased and donated to the family to help offset the cost of their travel. Anne Puzak, senior class president, raised money to give Kelly gifts such as lotions, headbands, CD’s, and chapstick to help ease her discomfort. After months of therapy, Kelly has seen much improvement. Her solid determination to get her health back has gained Kelly the ability today to stand on her own, take actual steps, eat solid foods, and she has improved in the area of speech. Kelly is now able to complete schoolwork on a computer aided by a joystick; she continues to work with a device called the Dynavox, which types the words Kelly wishes to say. Thus, Kelly is now able to keep in touch friends and loved ones through Facebook—all on her own. She also has been using a mobile arm support to eat, brush her teeth, and wash her hair. In addition, Kelly has been working with an instrument called the Lokomat, which is a robotic device that is similar to a treadmill with added assistance to help restore the walking function. To use the Lokomat, Kelly suspends in a harness over the treadmill that has a mechanical exoskeleton that aids Kelly’s legs in creating a walking motion.
To try and brighten Kelly’s days, Mrs. Aston will make comments to Kelly about the Lokomat’s appearance, telling her she often looks like a “Transformer.” With the Lokomat, Kelly has worked to recently conquer more than a mile at 2.7 mph and worked up to 3.0 mph, which could be a record distance and time at the rehabilitation center!
Though Kelly has had days where she gets discouraged over her progress, her therapists, according to her mom, do a great job reminding her of the breakthroughs she has seen. With these improvements, both Kelly and Kelly’s family believe she will walk out of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.
Mrs. Aston credits the family’s faith in God for allowing them to stay sane through this crisis. That is because, although Kelly is struggling, so too is the entire family. Kelly’s younger sister, Annie, started her freshman year of high school this year. Mrs. Aston said it was very hard on Annie not having her sister at the high school with her because she was expecting Kelly to be there for support. Annie said she was “excited to start [her] freshman year with Kelly! … [Annie’s] high school transition was really hard without Kelly because, at the time, [her family] really didn’t know what was going on, and [Annie] just couldn’t focus on [her] schoolwork knowing [Kelly] was in the hospital.”
The date of Kelly’s return to her hometown, Vermilion, cannot be set yet. She still has many milestones to achieve before this final goal can be reached. Therefore, she is still in Chicago and the cause of her stroke is still unclear.
It is the little things that can get you through, said Mrs. Aston. She remembers being deeply touched by a verse that was embroidered upon the hospital wall, it said: