Bouncing back from a scare

(Photo by Heather Davidson)
(Photo by Heather Davidson)

Kerilynn Mathers didn’t think anything serious was happening to her.

Last year during the 2013 Ontario University Athletics (OUA) curling championship, the women’s curling vice fell ill like the rest of her team. At the time only a second-year kinesiology major, Mathers experienced what she thought was the flu, but fought through it.

The week after the OUA championship in February 2013, however, her health took a turn for the worse.

“I left OUAs and went through reading week and things weren’t normal,” Mathers explained. “I saw a bunch of doctors and they came up with all of these things that were going on, but everything just didn’t seem to be lining up..”

The doctors diagnosed her with a migraine. Mathers played in a mixed zones bonspiel for a junior team during reading week and found herself in and out of the emergency room. Despite countless visits to the hospital, the doctors never changed her diagnosis.

“So after about a week of that, [the doctors] finally decided they were going to do some more tests and see if there’s anything going on, because my parents said, ‘we’re not leaving until we get answers. She hasn’t had a migraine for a week.’”

To rule out all possibilities, the doctors at Grand River Hospital in Kitchener decided to do more tests. And what Mathers found out would change her life.

“They came back saying, ‘you actually have two blood clots in your brain, and you’re at risk for a possible stroke,” she recalled.
Mathers avoided having a serious stroke, which could have resulted in paralysis or even death, by just 24 hours.

“If you look back and think about it, you don’t realize how serious things are when you’re going through them and you look back and realize how they were,” she said.

Upon hearing the news, Mathers’ life changed instantly. She found herself admitted to Grand River for three weeks following reading week in 2013 and on blood thinners. She lost 25 pounds and dropped her total weight to around 95 pounds. She could barely walk down the hallway of the ward, and her mother was considering flying in from Halifax, Nova Scotia to be by her daughter’s side.

After the first initial treatments, Mathers was transported to Hamilton General Hospital to be tested and helped by the health sciences department and the doctors in their ward. Three weeks after her initial admission into the hospital, Mathers was released. But, even now, she doesn’t think it was the best thing for her.

“I was still going downhill. And that was when we were still trying to find the right doctor,” she explained.

Mathers was still losing weight. She was still getting worse. And the doctors in Hamilton said she was the youngest person they had seen this condition in. But that right doctor came along. Mathers and her family found Dr. Brian van Adel, the stroke neurologist for Hamilton health sciences.

Mathers said she owes her life to him.

From there, with the help of the doctors at Hamilton and her family, friends and boyfriend, Mathers began her full recovery. She’s now on medication to help with the headaches and the symptoms she experienced just a year ago, from a rare case of blood clots caused by birth control medication.

“I had messages from my teammates asking, ‘are you okay?’ And the whole time I’m just thinking, ‘I can’t be out, I can’t be out of curling!’” she laughed. “My family was amazing. My friends, my boyfriend … they never left..”

By summer of 2013, Mathers began to piece back together the parts of her life that were altered by her blood clots. She also made the brave step of getting back in the gym and getting ready for the 2013-14 year.

“It was hard just to get back even into the gym because I had the thought that I could still do what I had done before,” Mathers said. “If you were to go to the gym and go for a long run, [instead] I’d just be able to go for a small walk and that was all I could do.”

But Mathers isn’t one to give up. The third-year slowly regained her strength and got back on the ice in preparation for the 2014 OUA championship with her rink — and friends — at Laurier. Going into the OUA championship, Mathers said on a scale of one to ten, she felt like a ten — a big improvement from a year prior.

And after the year she went through, Mathers helped the Hawks to a perfect 6-0 record in the round robin and a dramatic OUA championship final finish, capturing the gold medal and a trip to the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) national championships. She was even named an OUA second team all-star.

Despite what she went through and the setback she faced, Mathers has never been more thankful for everything she has in her life.

“I think I just kept going knowing that I had so much to still be thankful for,” Mathers said. “I think a lot of people can take those hard times and let it get to them.”

“It’s realizing you were given a second chance.”

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