Sunday, October 13, 2013

Survivor Story - High School Senior McKenna Stec

The following story was taken from the Nebraska State Stroke Association web site ( While at the Lincoln stroke camp August 2013 I met Marcia Matthies, Outreach Coordinator for the Nebraska State Stroke Association. I first met her in 2011 at the same camp location. She gave me permission to reproduce on our blog any article they have on their site. Thank you Marcia. 

My name is McKenna Stec and I am a senior at Elkhorn South High School. 

I had a stroke before I was born so I had to figure out how to use my hand so it would be helpful in my life.  Walking was another challenge due to the stroke.  One thing that I remember since I was a baby, was wearing leg braces and hand braces. When I was six I had surgery done on my hand so it could be flexible and more useful.  One of the reasons I remember it is because the surgery was done on Halloween, I told everyone at school that I was going to be a patient for Halloween. The next day after the surgery,  my older sister Tori came in dressed up as a doctor. It completely brightened my day and she was my favorite doctor who took care of me.

Two years later I had to have another surgery, except this time it was on my foot.  When I walked, my foot would turn outward. In the hospital my dad stayed with me the whole time. I remember wanting to watch the movie Charlotte’s Web, but they couldn’t find it, so I decided to watch Mary Poppins.  It was in the middle of the night and dad was confused, he didn’t understand why I wanted to watch Mary Poppins. I remember thinking he was looking at me like I was crazy.  Every time Mary Poppins is on I remember that night.

I also recall after both surgeries life got easier, but it took time. Things such as opening marker tops and just figuring out how to do things one handed, like carrying groceries into the house or lifting boxes got better with time.  I learned that when hanging things up I had to put the hanger on my left arm to hold it still so I could hang the shirt on the hanger.  I have always had Occupational and Physical therapis’s who have helped me throughout and made sure both my hand and foot were flexible and working.  Even with all their help, I figured out a lot of strategies on my own just from my own experience and I’m still working. 

Therapy for my arm was more challenging compared to therapy for my foot.   One of the stretches I remember the most was for my arm.  My therapist Jenny held my wrist and I would have to flex it up and down.  Another activity that Jenny and I did was to practice bowling, but I had to use both hands.  I would do that with plastic cones and a plastic bowling ball and remember that it felt weird using both my hands. My favorite exercise though was going to the grocery store and pushing the cart making sure both hands were on the cart and I had to look straight ahead.  That is something that I still do to this day. 

My foot therapy made me focus and was challenging because of my balance.  I had to stand on a round surface that kept on moving.  I wanted to keep the pressure on my right foot but needed to concentrate on putting pressure on my left foot instead.  I had to focus straight ahead to keep my balance while the surface would move and almost tip me over.  I would start off with holding my therapist, Christy’s hand and then as I started to focus on a point straight ahead I would let go of her hand for as long as possible trying not to tip over and fall.    I still need to remember to pick up my foot while I look straight ahead.   I will drag my foot when I get tired and can still lose my focus.   I use a leg brace when needed so my foot won’t turn when I am walking long distances. 

My school memories begin when I was in kindergarten. I remember when I got to go on a class field trip to a farm and ride a horse in third grade.  Shortly after that I started hippo therapy which allowed me to ride horses. I was so excited!   I met new people and we had a float in the Nebraskaland Days Parade. Hippo therapy was fun because I did activities while riding that helped me keep my balance and stay flexible - things like throwing a big orange ball to Linda while on the back of Fancy or Whiskers, the two horses I rode.  We also would go and get the newspaper from the mailbox or put rings on a cone.  Fancy and Whiskers were great to ride while working on reaching and stretching.  

In 5th grade my family and I moved to Kentucky. It was hard at first since I was older and I didn’t know how people would react to me.  I started to make friends and most of them didn’t ask what happened to my hand, but some did.  They would ask things like, “Are you ok,”? Because they would think I was walking funny. I would say, “Yea, I’m fine,” and eventually mention to them that I had a stroke.    As I got to know people and gained trust I would explain to them what had happened to me. They asked thousands of questions but the main question was always, “can you move your fingers?”   This question was frustrating to answer all the time, but I would do my best to answer so they would know that I didn’t get hurt.

Some time later I started volunteering at a YMCA in the Childwatch Daycare area.  I liked it because it was fun and was a way to get out of the house for a few hours.   After I volunteered there the first two years it turned into a job by my freshman year of high school. The job was challenging, but I was able to do it well with some different strategies that I figured out on my own.   I remember when I was in 7th grade a teacher told the class how people can be different.  She said “…like McKenna, she looks like she needs help because of her hand, but really she has it under control.”  She told the class, “Unless she comes up to you or asks for help, she has it taken care of.”  So, I like to experience things on my own and if I can’t come up with a strategy then I will ask for help. 

Along the way I got involved with high school bowling.  I have been doing it since the 8th grade. I am on the high school bowling team and qualified for individual state championship competition both my junior and senior year.  I am looking forward to participating in bowling for Special Olympics. 

My plan for the future is to graduate from high school in 2013 and go to Metro Community College and learn how to be an administrative assistant.  I hope to become an OT/PT assistant one day in the future because of all my experience. 
I am looking forward to the future and I will never give up! 

1 comment:

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