Erica Norman describes herself as a fitness freak, maintaining a lifestyle that she thought would protect her from serious medical issues. But she had to sit down in the middle of a gym session when she thought she was having a heart attack.
“I thought it was the last thing that would ever happen to me,” Norman told CBC News.
She didn’t realize that she was born with an arteriovenous malformation — a cluster of infused blood vessels. After a friend called 911 and a medical crew brought her to a nearby hospital, doctors found that her brain was bleeding. She was placed in intensive care, where she remained for four days before being transferred to a regular bed.
Not wanting to worry her parents, she initially asked doctors not to call them. But later she changed her mind, and her parents took the next flight to the US. “They have brightened my days in so many ways," Norman said. "They told me I was strong. They told me I could do it."
She can speak normally, but is now unable to walk without a walker. The episode made her left side weak and her left arm has limited movement. Five days of hospital care has led to $77,000 in medical bills, which she expects to go past six figures before she’s released.
“Every bit of care I get — even if it’s just to help me sit up in bed — I'm getting charged for it,” she said.
And Norman doesn’t have medical coverage to pay for it. A graduate of Memorial University, she recently signed a one-year contract without benefits to work at a biomedical engineering firm in Indiana. “I didn't think that anything like this would happen," she said.
Rather than worry, she has decided to focus on getting better and getting back home to Newfoundland. Meanwhile, a GoFundMe campaign set up in her name has gathered more than $30,000 from all over the province, mainly from her home community of Shea Heights. “Every little bit has added up,” she said. “I'm just so grateful to have such amazing people in my life."
According to Norman’s doctors, she faces an increased risk of a second stroke over the next year, which will go down as time passes. But because of the location of the malformed blood vessels in her brain, surgery is out of the question. Instead, she has to undergo radiation treatment to destroy the cluster.
In the meantime, she’s using the determination developed through consistent gym sessions to slowly get her mobility back. “I'm a very independent woman,” she said. “I push myself every day to do something new.”
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A Newfoundland woman currently residing in the US state of Indiana is facing huge medical bills after suffering a stroke.