As a paramedic working in London, Natalie Kunicki, 23, had seen her fair share of stroke victims, typically in people who were over 70 years old.
At her young age, Kunicki was confused and worried when she started experiencing stroke symptoms herself on March 4 — but because she was so young, she also had a difficult time accepting that she might actually be experiencing a stroke.
Kunicki told news and entertainment platform VT that she had simply been sitting down watching a movie when she adjusted her position and stretched her neck.
She and her friend both heard a loud crack from her neck as she moved, but she thought nothing of it since she experienced no pain.
Kunicki, who described herself as being “tipsy,” went to bed and tried to sleep.
But after just 15 minutes, she woke up experiencing symptoms she later realized were consistent with a stroke.
Natalie Kunicki would regularly crack her jointshttps://t.co/oxUiyKDJQp
— The Daily Record (@Daily_Record) April 15, 2019
“I got up and tried to walk to the bathroom and I was swaying everywhere,” Kunicki said. “I looked down and realized I wasn’t moving my left leg at all — then I fell to the floor.”
She hesitated to call the paramedics, partly because she thought perhaps she had more to drink than she realized, and was just experiencing the effects of the alcohol.
“I was just completely shut off, trying to compute what had happened. People said I was a bit like a robot and didn’t show much emotion,” she said.
Kunicki also worried that if she called for help, the first responders would be her friends, and they would see her in her “tipsy” state.
But Kunicki did call the paramedics, and a team of professionals she did not know showed up to help.
She explained to them that she was a paramedic and believed she had possibly had a stroke, even though she was only 23. They read her vitals, and those readings lined up with her theory.
Kunicki was rushed to the hospital where a doctor confirmed that she had experienced a stroke, and was able to explain the rare circumstance that triggered the stroke:
“The doctors told me later that just that stretching of my neck had caused my vertebral artery to rupture,” Kunicki said. “It was just spontaneous and there’s a one in a million chance of it happening.
“I was in shock for about three days in ICU,” she added. “I was a bit of a wet blanket. I didn’t really say much and I wasn’t engaging with anyone. I had no sense of humor.”
After the shock and depression of being partially paralyzed subsided, Kunicki turned her efforts toward focusing on her recovery so she can remain in London and return to work as a paramedic.
She also wants people to know that strokes can happen to people of all ages, and that every second counts when seeking medical treatment after a stroke.
Paramedic, 23, suffers a stroke after cracking her neck and mistakes her own symptoms as being drunk: Natalie Kunicki, who works for the London Ambulance Service, stretched while watching films in bed after a night out drinking. A burst artery caused a… https://t.co/vq1F8D95dI pic.twitter.com/Y5NKvTjemA
— RushReads (@RushReads) April 15, 2019
“People need to know that even if you’re young, something this simple can cause a stroke. I wasn’t even trying to crack my neck. I just moved and it happened,” Kunicki said.
“Every minute more of your brain cells are dying, so don’t ever discount a stroke just because someone is young.”
Kunicki said she has relied heavily on the support of her friends and parents to see her through the slow recovery process.
Her brother started a Go Fund Me campaign to help Kunicki stay afloat financially as she regains her independence, especially since her parents are moving back to Australia over the summer.
She’s grateful for the support of her friends, as she said they would not allow her to wallow in self-pity and instead encouraged her to look to the future.
“I think if I didn’t have them I would have been in my pity party quite a bit longer but instead, I smashed through all the therapy goals,” she said.
Kunicki hopes to return to work full-time in six to 12 months.
“I just love my job and I want to get back to it,” she said. “I’m so used to being busy and now I feel like I’m climbing the walls a bit. I definitely want to get back to work as soon as I can.”