Experiencing the joy of witnessing your child’s first steps is a milestone most parents never forget. For Amanda Johnston, she watched her 15-month-old son perfect his walk while relearning how to walk herself. In February 2016, at the age of 29, Amanda had an ischemic stroke (CVA) due to heart defects that she was unaware of. Her journey in healing is so inspiring. Encouragement from her family and her love for the outdoors helped her heal. Here is Amanda’s “My HiB Story”.
Amanda spent ten days in a hospital to be treated for the stroke that she suffered. Her husband Patrick, recalled that terrible time. “We did not know how much of a recovery she would make.” he said. “The doctors promised us nothing but hope.” Unable to walk, barely able to complete a sentence, and having no coordination on the right side of her body made her rehabilitation slow and frustrating. She had speech therapy and physical therapy sessions to relearn how to do basic things taken for granted, like walking and talking.
Amanda had motivation from her two toddlers. She wanted to be able to be outside, take them places with confidence, and eventually run after them on the trails that she loved to hike. Patrick explained how the outdoors has impacted their lives throughout their relationship. “It is where we courted, we married, and where we consistently go with our boys for peace and fulfillment.”
Looking back on her therapy, Amanda said, “While I was thankful to just be alive, I really wanted to be able to use my body to the best of my abilities.” Patrick also remembers how much energy Amanda put into her recovery. “She was relentlessly determined,” he said. “Less than a week after her stroke she moved around freely using a walker and within two weeks she could get around slowly unassisted.”
Once Amanda was back home with her family, she began to take short walks with Patrick to the mailbox and back. Being outside was uplifting. They bought some plants and she spent time healing outdoors while gardening. Tremors and the loss of her fine motor skills were not going to stop her from getting outdoors with her family. She needed to be cautious about falling or wounding herself, since her medication to thin her blood would cause her to bleed more. However, her medical provider still encouraged her to follow her desire to be active outdoors.
Soon, Amanda graduated to taking walks in her neighborhood. By using the stroller that she pushed her children in as a walker, she was able to take those constant steps around the block. “It was seriously hard work to constantly use these muscles in cohesion with one another,” said Amanda. “[I had to] think about the next step constantly.”
She became more and more brave with each passing day. One day, she made the one mile trip to the grocery store, slowly, by pushing her sons in the stroller. At the time, she felt such freedom, and even euphoria, to be outside with her boys. She was almost unstoppable. “With my hands on that stroller I felt in control.”
This accomplishment was so rewarding that she began to repeat the walk to the grocery store – a 3.2 mile trip – several times per week along with enjoying outdoors time with the boys almost every day. “Just being out there,” said Amanda, “getting dirty from playing and gardening felt really good.” She was improving not only her walking, but noticed an improvement in her attitude as well.
Once she felt strong enough, she asked Patrick to help her get her youngest son, who was 30 lbs. at one-and-a-half-years-old, up onto her back and into a carrier for an evening walk. They were all happy that night. It was so pleasant that the next day, Amanda tried and was able to get her son on her back by herself. She celebrated by taking a walk around the neighborhood with him in the carrier. She walked slow and steady without holding on to a stroller for support. This was such an accomplishment that she dreamed of attempting more and more.
Not wanting to lose momentum, the family went on an easy hike that weekend. Amanda carried the baby the entire three miles. “I was on top of the world!” she said. Now, she was unstoppable. Patrick looked back on this day as “the day that our family rediscovered our freedom.”
After this incredible challenge was conquered, the family continued to hike every weekend to keep up her confidence and the feeling of accomplishment. Becoming a Branch Ambassador for Hike it Baby felt like a natural step. “I love getting outside with my kids,” said Amanda, “and I want other families to enjoy it too!”
Now, Amanda walks with a normal stride. She even had to run after her toddler on the trail recently to stop him from getting too near a canyon edge. “I ran, I couldn’t believe it,” Amanda described her proud moment, “I actually ran, I felt like a warrior.” This warrior has even tandem carried her two boys on the trail. Patrick cheers her on as he watches in awe. “She just signed up for a half marathon which will be completed less than 10 months from her stroke!” he said. “She simply refuses to let this circumstance alter her life.”
Amanda’s story is so inspiring. For parents, sometimes getting out the front door can feel like a hike. For Amanda, it was a hike. Things taken for granted, like walking and talking, can take time to heal. Her medical providers approve of her steps towards healthy living. By choosing to eat well, stress less, and remain active she is helping to prevent another stroke from occurring.
Being his wife’s biggest cheerleader was like riding a roller-coaster of emotions during this time. Patrick said that he went from “fear and sadness, to despair, to hope, and finally relief” when he realized that she would recover. He explained how they have used this situation to find the best in themselves. “Amanda has been my inspiration since the day we met. There is no greater source of passion in my life. If success is defined as getting up one more time than your competition, I have no doubt that Amanda will forever be a winner. Simply being close to Amanda is enough to make me a better person.”
Amanda credits her time outdoors and on the trail with helping her recovery happen that much faster. Her neurologist told them that her recovery is “as good as it gets”. She said, “I honestly believe that getting outside, being in the dirt, walking on uneven terrain has really helped me. My children doing that with me was all the healing I could get.”
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Christel Peters is a Branch Ambassador for Hike it Baby Spearfish and the Mama to Sebastian. When she isn’t chasing her adventurous toddler on the trails she is one of the Blog Editors for Hike it Baby. Do you have a story that should appear on our blog? Let us know!! email your submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org