Consumer Highlight: Heidi Whitrock

head shot of Heidi Whitrock

Heidi Whitrock was born and raised in Vandalia, IL and graduated from Vandalia Community High School. After high school, she got married and they moved to Godfrey, IL. While living in Godfrey, she had her daughter, Abigail, and went to Louis & Clark Community college where she obtained an Associate of Applied Science degree specializing in Occupational Therapy Assisting (OTA). After graduating she worked as OT Assistant.

Ten years ago, Heidi and her husband wanted to move from their small town in Illinois so they sent resumes to several different companies in different states and decided that they would move wherever the best job opportunity was for either one of them.  Heidi was offered a position in Indianapolis and they moved to Greenwood, Indiana with their daughter who was just beginning middle school.

One morning in 2014, Heidi was working out at her gym with her personal training and the personal trainer kept telling Heidi that she didn’t look well. Heidi said, “My traps felt really week so she told me to sit down and rest and took my pulse and it was very high. My head felt really funny. I just felt really weak in my traps. I then started throwing up and started to get a horrible headache. I took my migraine medication and it was not working. My personal trainer then called my husband who took me to the St Frances hospital.”

Heidi said, “I went to the hospital thinking I had a really bad migraine. When I didn’t get better after they gave me medication for a migraine they sent me for a CAT scan. After the CAT scan everything became urgent. They told me that they needed to do surgery, but they had to get my blood pressure down before it was safe to do so. They called the trauma unit at Methodist hospital and I was immediately sent there for surgery. I later learned that I had the aneurysm and hemorrhage. I later learned the aneurysm popped because I had high blood pressure. I had no idea that I had high blood pressure until they told me at the hospital.”

Heidi learned that she Middle Cerebral Artery Aneurysm, which is an enlargement of an artery caused by weakening of the artery wall that ruptures and she suffered from a subarachnoid hemorrhage, which is a life-threating type of stroke that was caused by the bleeding from the ruptured aneurysm. Aneurysms in the middle cerebral effect primary and motor sensory areas of the face, throat, hand, and arm. Heidi had suffered with migraines for 14 years and remembers them starting after her daughter was born. She had no other known health issues.

“I did not have the thunder clap headache that usually accompanies a brain aneuerysm rupture and I did not lose conscienceless or have a seizure. They got my blood pressure down and I went into surgery and had the aneurysm clamped so blood would no longer leak into my brain.” The hemorrhaging, cause vision, physical and cognitive issues for Heidi and she had to receive months of speech, vision, and physical therapy.

She now needs specialized prism classes to see printed material. She is also unable to see in 3D, which causes her to have problems with depth perception. She has difficulty comprehending written material and may have to read something multiple times and have plenty of time to think about the meaning of what she read. It was 3 months before she was able to drive again and she is hypersensitive to sounds and light. She now wears earplugs in loud areas and sunglasses when she is in a bright environment. After surgery and leaving the hospital, being in large crowds made her anxious because she is so sensitive to sound. She said, “It took a few years for me to learn adaptive strategies to deal with crowds. Now they don’t bother me like they used to at all.”

After surgery and some time off, Heidi tried to go back to work, but it was too difficult due to the aphasia she was having which is the loss of ability to understand or express speech. They encouraged her to contact Vocational Rehabilitation, which is a state agency that assists individuals in obtaining or maintaining employment. It was through Vocational Rehabilitation that she was referred to Easterseals Crossroads for an assistive technology evaluation. An assistive technology evaluation is a one-on-one assessment of an individual’s assistive technology needs. These assessments help someone determine what types of technologies are available to increase their independence at work, home, or in the community.

Heidi took a leave and received more speech, vision, and physical therapy and had her assistive technology evaluation. She was assigned to work with Craig Burns, Assistive Technology Specialist, at Easterseals Crossroads. Heidi decided that she would return to school so she could become a medical coder and Craig recommended several things that helped her to so independently. He recommended a laptop with a 1-handed keyboard because she does not have much dexterity on her left side. He also recommended a Livescribe pen, which is a smart pen that has an embedded audio recorder that captures everything you write and hear so you don’t have to capture every written word and the audio can be played back by the pen or uploaded to a computer. The pen allowed her to capture notes in class without have to worry about writing down every word so she could listen to the lectures. She told me that it was a tool that was really helping her with her memory. Heidi graduated from Ivy Tech in 2017, but has since had trouble passing her medical boards and is still deciding what she wants to do moving forward, but knows she wants to work and the assistive technology she has incorporated in her life will be essential tools in helping her achieve those goals.

Heidi Whitrock using 1-handed keyboard

Heidi is still learning what works best for her and is starting to remember more and more. She has learned tricks that work best for her like having a physical calendar and then backing it up on the calendar on her phone. She is able to deal with her hypersensitivity to noise and light by wearing earplugs and sunglasses so she can still go to concerts, which is one of her favorite things to do with her husband and friends. Heidi said, “The most helpful thing about the assistive technology evaluation was learning there are ways to do all the things I used to do and I don’t have to live in a cocoon.”

Heidi said, “I truly believed if I had suffered this aneurysm in my hometown that I would not survived. I had access to the wonderful hospitals in Indianapolis who had the most current stroke protocols in place. I chose not to go to a rehabilitation center right after the hospital and I really regret that decision. I would encourage anyone who goes through this to go through a rehabilitation program and receive the services you need. I also would encourage people to learn how to self-advocate so you get what you need to recover. I later asked for therapy and assistive technology services and if I hadn’t spoke up for myself I would have fallen through the cracks. You have to find out what resources are available to you. It’s the only way things are going to get better. There are a lot of services and technologies that can help you become independent again. Easterseals was a godsend for me. I would have never been able to go back to school and graduate without them.”

Heidi now serves as a member on the aneurysm support group through Methodist Hospital, which is through the Department of Neurological Society. They meet 3 times per year at the Goodman Hall Conference center and it is open to the public. Thy have guest speakers to learn about neurological advance and the members share resources with each other. Heidi will continue to incorporate assistive technology into her life and continue to research what is available to increase her independence and looks forward to working in the future.