Mairead Hickok: Infant Stroke Survivor and Mom's 'Hero'

Updated:Jul 16,2013

Girl who’s overcome stroke on her 3rd day is her mom’s ‘hero … the most amazing person I know’

Following a healthy pregnancy and delivery, Maghan and Dave Hickok brought home their newborn daughter, Mairead. The next morning, Maghan remembers feeling that everything was perfect, and that her life was complete.Maghan
 
Later that day, they took baby for a check-up at the pediatrician. The doctor was going through a routine exam when, all of a sudden, Mairead’s knees jerked up toward her chest. Her head turned sharply to the right, her tiny eyes seemed to roll back and her skin began to turn blue. Mairead was having a seizure.
 
The doctor shouted at Maghan to hold the 3-day-old baby and ran out of the room to get help.
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Maghan heard a nurse call 9-1-1 while another doctor and a couple of nurses burst into the room and performed CPR on Mairead. Once the baby was breathing, they started an IV line in preparation for the ambulance crew.

Dave followed in the car while she rode with Mairead in the ambulance. En route, Mairead had a second seizure. Once at the hospital, the medical team jumped into action, preparing the largest emergency room for Mairead.

“I knew it was bad because there were probably 30 people in the room,” Maghan said.

Mairead had a third seizure and was stabilized before being taken for a CT scan, which came back inconclusive. Doctors still didn’t know what had happened and moved the baby to the neonatal intensive care unit.

It took two more days for an accurate diagnosis.
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A clot in a blood vessel had caused an ischemic stroke. While doctors were unable to determine where the clot originated, they believed the seizures were how the stroke presented itself.

The diagnosis stunned Maghan.

“I just wasn’t processing it,” she said. “I thought, `Wait, babies don’t have strokes.’”

Mairead was released from the hospital after five days. She was treated with anti-seizure medication for four months and never had another incident.

In the months that followed, Maghan and Dave underwent extensive testing as doctors searched for genetic clues to what may have caused Mairead’s stroke. Neither had any risk factors themselves, and they are unaware of any family history that posed an increased risk.

Maghan later became pregnant with identical twin boys. As a precaution, doctors conducted additional monitoring for brain and heart development. The boys were born premature, but healthy otherwise.
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Mairead turns 6 on July 29. The stroke caused some permanent damage, making her upbringing more challenging.

As her brain developed, new nerve connections were made to  work around the injured area. The result is that “her brain just works differently,” Maghan said.

Mairead has worked with a full spectrum of therapists to help her develop speech, social skills and life-skills, such as getting dressed.

The process has come with plenty of challenges as the family navigated through social services, therapy and other resources.

“Managing all the doctors’ appointments and therapy is really a full-time job,” Maghan said.

After the twins were born four years ago, the Hickoks sold their house and moved in with Maghan’s parents in Lowell, Mass., so she could stay at home with the kids.

“It was clear that Mairead’s deficits (problems that were caused by the stroke) were bigger than we thought,” Maghan said. “We changed everything so that we could do the best we could for our family.”
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All the therapy seems to be paying off. In June, Mairead graduated from kindergarten on time with her friends.

Mairead can learn concepts, but has trouble applying them. She continues to be very uncoordinated, struggling with things such as climbing or navigating a flight of stairs. And her depth perception is limited, making activities such as going down a slide scary for her.

“Her brain will always be recovering from and compensating for the injury,” Maghan said.

Maghan marvels at how far Mairead has come and how positively her daughter approaches each day.

“She’s just happy,” Maghan said.
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Maghan is happy, too, and is dedicated to helping others through Mairead’s story.

She used her Facebook page to share information, and she keeps a blog detailing Mairead’s experiences. She recently learned more about the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, and is eager to be an advocate for other kids like Mairead.

“Now that she is older and we are learning more about the support she will need throughout school, I see that there is a need for much more education and support,” Maghan said.

“I would love to see parents and teachers be able to find more information about supporting kids with strokes in the classroom, and I would like to be a part of making that happen.”
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Mairead’s struggles and successes prompted Maghan to nominate her daughter as her “stroke hero.” In fact, Maghan described her daughter as “the most amazing person I know.”

Here is more from Maghan’s note to the American Stroke Association:

“She has defied the odds and has blown us away with how much she has accomplished. … She is strong, beautiful, smart, loving, funny, determined, talented and kind. Most of all, she is happy. It's hard to see her meet with frustration, but 'happy' is definitely the word that best describes her. I hear it from her teachers and from other parents. No one would know that she is working so hard all the time; she is always smiling and is just so sweet. ... Her future still holds much uncertainty, but there is no doubt that it will be happy and inspiring.”

   
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Donate today to help people with cardiovascular disease or stroke or become an advocate with You're The Cure. You can also get involved with one of our many causes, like Go Red For WomenHeart Walk or Power To End Stroke, take a CPR class or volunteer in your local community!