Stroke victim considered walking miracle

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By Ashley McDougal, Staff Writer

On the night of June 22, the then 24-year-old Megan Gross of Lakeland collapsed in her home. Initially they believed the cause of the collapse to be a brain tumor until doctors determined that Gross had had a stroke caused by a previously undetected, and rare, birth defect called arteriovenous malformation or AVM. This extra tangle of veins inside her brain burst in the middle of the night setting in motion a life altering event.

Six months later, one of her doctors at Shands considers Gross to be a walking miracle. According to Gross's mother, Jackie Phillips, "he's so impressed with her everytime he sees her, to be at the six month mark and be doing what she's doing without having to be rehospitalized." The type of stroke she had is typically fatal and while she and her family are hoping for a 99 percent recovery, it's been a difficult time for them all.

Gross spent three weeks in the ICU and a total of 77 days in a Lakeland area hospital. Early on, the outlook was not promising and doctors told her mother to expect the worst and be prepared to pull the plug. Phillips said, "I would tell her, 'let me see those smokey blues' and she'd flutter," a sign that she not only recognized her mother, but could also respond to her commands. 

Following her hospital stay she needed full time nursing care, so Phillips left her job and newly purchased home to become trained and then to care for her. Gross then ran into the trouble of finding a doctor that would accept her Medicaid insurance as an adult patient. She was forced to leave her husband and three step children behind in Lakeland to stay with her grandmother in the Tri-County area where she is closer to Shands-where she receives follow up treatment and therapy. Gross also has a four-year-old that is staying with her.

Communication is one of Gross's biggest challenges as her vocal cords were partially paralyzed after the stroke. She had surgery in December to tighten her throat and just recently started speech and swallow therapy at Shands. With new, high strength glasses she can now see well enough to communicate with friends via text and facebook. She has a tracheostomy and a feeding tube in her stomach and has progressed from relearning how to stand up to the point of walking with just the aid of a walker. Sitting with Gross, her daughter and mother last week, Gross sat quietly crying, reliving the terrifying events of the life-changing night, as Phillips told her story.

What's Gross's biggest goal? "Getting better, she wants to get back to being a mom, that's what's important to her," said Phillips with a nod of agreement from Gross. Once a take charge person and very involved mom, life as Gross new it has changed and she's continuing to adjust to her new situation. Phillips explained that she's in the home stretch for getting better, but it's just going to take some time, which she thinks is the hardest thing for Gross. She also said that the first year is the most crucial in regards to recovery and the quality of life she will have in the future, though she will continue to be in recovery for two years.

The family has set up a recovery fund to help with expenses. Phillips explained that  Gross has at times had four appointments in Gainesville in a week. The family can use help with gas and bills. Phillips has a new home that she hasn't lived in a day and is at risk of losing. She said she needs to have something to go back to when Gross is better. The fund can be visited at www.youcaring.com/MeganGrossRecoveryFund or follow them on facebook at www.facebook.com/HelpMeganRecover.