Ballerina wakes up partially paralyzed after suffering stroke

NEW ORLEANS -- Imagine going to sleep one day and waking up paralyzed. Sounds like a nightmare. But it really happened to Sarah Abrusley.

Ten years ago, Sarah, a ballerina, was preparing for a gala performance to raise money for young artists. Then, one day she woke up with a headache.

"One night, I am rehearsing, balancing effortlessly on the tiny tip of a point shoe," she tells WGNO. "And the next day I awaken with the worst headache of my life."

It wasn't just a headache. Sarah had suffered a stroke while she slept. She woke up with the left side of her body paralyzed.

Sarah was young and healthy -- a dancer. She had been rehearsing the night before. When she woke up with a headache and trouble moving, she didn't think it was a stroke. She just thought she had been working her self too hard. Besides rehearsing, she also worked full-time as a concierge at a hotel.

"When I initially awakened with a terrible headache, my instant reaction was to race to work, to get some work done a bit early because I had this gala performance the next day," she says.

But, her husband saw her struggling to get dressed and rushed her to a hospital.

"I'm lying in the CAT scan machine," Sarah says. "And, I hear the young techs saying to each other, 'Ooh, big bleed on the right.'"

The doctors told her it was a massive brain hemorrhage. Her brain was bleeding. And, the part that controlled the left side of her body wasn't getting enough blood.

She survived an emergency surgery. But, there was a new challenge: learning to live as a stroke survivor.

"Never having known anyone who suffered a stroke--how could I expect the aftermath, which is having to learn to walk again and having to learn to use my left arm and hand again?" says Sarah.

She had to learn how to swallow again--how to keep her head upright. And she did. Now she wants all stroke survivors to learn from her experience.

"In my soul, I always knew that because my life was spared, that it was spared for a reason, and needed to be used for good," Sarah says.

What saved Sarah's life was the quick response by her husband and the doctors at the hospital. Sarah wants everyone to know the signs of a stroke so they can react fast, too.

Just remember FAST: Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, Time to call 9-1-1.