Erik Dornbush's Story: The Day That Changed It All

Updated:Nov 27,2012

Erik DornbushLess than a month before he turned 13, Erik Dornbush woke up barely able to move his left side. He was suffering from the worst headache of his life. When he tried to get up, he knocked over an end table — and realized something was terribly wrong.

He’d had a stroke.

Erik was rushed to the hospital in his hometown of Warrenton, Va. where a doctor used a CAT scan to identify internal bleeding. Eric was airlifted to a nearby hospital. A shunt was inserted to relieve the pressure on his brain and an angiogram revealed an arteriovenous malformation (AVM), an abnormal collection of blood vessels, in the medulla area of the brainstem.

Erik was kept in a chemically induced coma and on a ventilator because doctors weren’t sure he could breathe on his own. Other questions remained. If Erik survived, would he have normal physical and cognitive functions?

Days later Erik woke up, looked around and asked “Where am I?”

His family and doctors were relieved to learn he had no memory impairments. Unfortunately, he had suffered noticeable cranial nerve damage affecting the right side of his face. He was sent to a rehabilitation center for therapy to regain motor functions and finish the school year.

When the therapy was done, Erik came home with a walker and a wheelchair to help his balance and continued outpatient therapy. Four months after his stroke, Erik received gamma knife radiation to shrink and eventually obliterate the AVM. That fall, he returned to school as an eighth grader and a stroke survivor.

Now 15, Erik enjoys soccer, golf, running and solving puzzles. He credits solid medical care, a supportive family, sheer determination — and research and education by organizations like the American Heart Association — for saving his life.

Read more stories about children who have survived strokes.