dArlene Jensen texted her 28-year-old daughter, Caitlin, on a quiet Thursday morning in June as the graduate student was on her way for a routine neck correction at a chiropractor appointment she nearly canceled.
Caitlin read her mother’s last text at 9 a.m. Twenty-one minutes later, Ms. Jensen got a call: Her daughter had a reaction to the treatment, the chiropractor said.
Since then, she has been unable to respond to her mother’s text messages or walk, talk, eat or breathe on her own.Read:Olaf Scholz slammed over (non)reaction to Palestinian leader’s Holocaust remarks – POLITICO
In a rare but very real tragedy, Caitlin’s neck adjustment appointment resulted in vertebral artery dissection, which causes a stroke and cuts off blood flow to the brain. Her decline was rapid and she faces a long, arduous recovery.
Jensen, 49, had no idea what to expect when she quit her job as the front office manager of a transmission store outside of Savannah, Georgia, to join her daughter. She didn’t even tell her son, who spent the summer working with her on a break from Georgia Southern University, what exactly was going on.
“I just thought, she probably has vertigo or something,” Ms. Jensen tells me The independent. “I mean, it just never occurred to me that it was a serious problem. So I just said, you know, I’m going to see her. I’ll be right back.”
However, when Ms. Jensen — whose high school sweetheart husband died when Caitlin was a toddler — arrived at the chiropractor, she was shocked to realize how dire the situation seemed to be; her daughter was already in an ambulance.Read:Moscow’s Kherson troops nearly cut off after Ukrainian strikes damage road and rail bridges
“It was clear that something was wrong,” Jensen says. “Her speech was wrong. She was very sweaty and nauseous; she was throwing up.”
Even then, Ms. Jensen says, “It didn’t occur to me that she was having a stroke.”
“I’ve never seen anyone have a stroke; I didn’t know the signs and symptoms of a stroke,” she says. “I didn’t expect a 28-year-old perfectly healthy young woman to have a stroke.”
Caitlin was taken away and eventually put on a ventilator; she has now been transferred to the brain injury ward at Atlanta’s Shepherd Center, where Mrs. Jensen is sleeping in her daughter’s room, more than four hours from home.
It’s a long way from where she thought Caitlin would be now. When her daughter went to chiropractor two months ago, she had just graduated from Georgia Southern with degrees in biology and chemistry and was applying for a job researching microplastics in wastewater and the environment.Read:Suspected meteor caught on camera streaking across the sky over Utah | US News
Studying for that degree is what led Caitlin to seek the care of a chiropractor in the first place, her mother says.
“She sat at her desk studying every day,” says Jensen. “She was very tense because it was very difficult. So she clenched her teeth and, you know, a little tight. And we thought… maybe it would help to go to the chiropractor to loosen things up a bit.’
Caitlin had only been a few times before, and the June appointment was scheduled by the office after the previous adjustment, Ms. Jensen says.
“She says, ‘I don’t think I should go,'” her mother says, adding that she told Caitlin, “Just keep your appointment, because we’re responsible people who don’t cancel things at the last minute…so she went.”
The appointment was on June 16, and within the hour Caitlin was in the hospital. Two months later, she was transferred to Shepherd, where she has made some progress and has been removed from a ventilator, Ms Jensen says, adding that her daughter’s cognitive abilities appear to have been fortunately spared.
“Our main form of communication right now is going through the alphabet,” said Ms. Jensen. “And she’ll let me know when I’ve read the correct letter, and I’ll spell everything out.
“She can also nod and thumbs, and she can put things in her mouth; sometimes i can get it, sometimes i can’t. Really, now, [we are] write everything out. Fortunately, she can spell very well. But yes, we just spell everything out meticulously.”
Caitlin has asked for a watch to keep track of time; she’s been kept away from social media, but the presence of service dogs “lights up” her lifelong love of animals, her mother says.
While it’s comforting and encouraging to know that her daughter’s brain damage hasn’t affected her acuity or personality, Ms. Jensen says, Caitlin has been “pretty emotional and upset lately.”
“The reality of everything is touching her now,” she says. “So she’s had a very emotional, difficult week.”
Recovery will undeniably be difficult, though support has been unwavering; a GoFundMe has raised nearly $100,000 to pay Caitlin’s huge medical bills, and messages of support continue to pour in as she fights to regain her position. The cards and get well wishes she’s received over the past two months have helped her spirit, Ms. Jensen says.
“We’re still trying to reconnect her right side,” she says The independent. “We have to work on the muscles involved in swallowing, you know, protecting her own airways, her diaphragm, sneezing, coughing, you know, all the things she has to do to be able to breathe unaided.
“We’re still processing all that… The fan has been removed. She breathes herself. She’s still breathing through the windpipe; we can’t remove that yet. But I mean, it’s a huge step forward that she’s breathing like that.”
Ms. Jensen is staying in a rollaway bed in Caitlin’s room and explains that she “can’t leave her alone because she still has a lot of discharge and still sucks on her own saliva – because those muscles aren’t working properly.
“So she can get a little hidden in there. She needs to be sucked out regularly. And if it gets too bad in there, it can block her airway. And it has [been] a few times we’ve had some scary moments where she’s had, you know, a code blue.
A code blue sounds the alarm when a hospital patient experiences an unexpected cardiac or respiratory arrest requiring CPR.
Mrs. Jensen is stoic, but still incredulous.
“I’ve never heard of anything like this,” she says The independent. “I didn’t know it could happen. So it just wasn’t on my radar.”
She says: “That’s one of the things I think people should be aware of… what the symptoms and signs are of a stroke, and that it can happen from something like this – from having a neck adjustment at a chiropractor.” .
“Since then countless people have contacted me; I had a contact with me today who is paralyzed by it,” she says, adding, “People need to be aware of the risks associated with neck adjustments at a chiropractor.
“I mean, we had no idea.”
According to a piece published last year in Stroke: Vascular and Interventional Neurology, vertebral arterial dissection “can result from trauma of varying severity — from sports, car accidents and chiropractors’ neck manipulations to violent coughing/sneezing.
“It is estimated that 1 in 20,000 spinal manipulation results in aneurysm/dissection of the vertebral artery. In the United States, patients with multiple chronic conditions report a higher use of complementary or alternative medicine, including manipulation through chiropractic,” the report states.
“Education about the association of VAD and chiropractor maneuvers may benefit the public as these are preventable acute ischemic strokes. In addition, symptoms of vertebral artery dissection can be subtle and patients presenting to chiropractors may have distracting pain masking their deficits. “
Chiropractors argue that dissection itself may be at the root of the pain that drives patients to seek care — claiming that in many cases their own adjustments were incidental to a bigger problem.
However, Ms. Jensen wants the public to learn about arterial dissection and how easily — and harmlessly — it can be done.
It happened to her family; she knows.
“I think people should avoid neck modifications, for example,” she says The independent. “If they really insist and think they need a neck adjustment, then a good chiropractor will do X-rays. An MRI needs to be done, extensive testing needs to be done first, before they ever hit your neck with any kind of adjustment.
“And frankly, I just think chiropractors shouldn’t be doing them at all.”
But right now, Mrs. Jensen is only looking ahead and spending every waking moment with her daughter; Caitlin’s younger brother is back at school in Georgia Southern, but his big sister’s ghost has not faded.
“She’s really wrapping her head around it now – but she will,” says Ms Jensen The independent. “She’s so strong and so determined.”
She tells her daughter: “You can be upset, you can be angry, you can be scared, you can be whatever you want – but do the job anyway. You’re still doing the work.’
“And she does the job,” she says. “So I know. I really think we can do great things.”