Michelle Nimmerrichter was only 20 years old when she suffered a stroke that left her in a coma and on a ventilator.
She appears to be part of a trend -- a recent study found that strokes are affecting people at younger ages.
Nimmerrichter was paralyzed on one side and unresponsive when she arrived at Loyola University Medical Center on May 13th, 2011.
"She was very critically ill," said Dr. Jose Biller, a neurologist who directed her care. Biller is an internationally known expert on strokes in young people, and chair of Loyola's Department of Neurology.
Nimmerrichter has made a remarkable recovery and has returned to college. The main lingering effect is minor dystonia (involuntary muscle contraction) in her right hand. It doesn't stop her from eating her favorite food (cupcakes) or holding her cat, Cupcake.
Biller determined that Nimmerrichter suffered an unusual type of stroke that was triggered by a blood clot in the deep veins in her brain, leading to massive brain swelling. The clot was likely due to two factors: Nimmerrichter's blood has a genetic abnormality that makes it more prone to clotting, and she was taking a hormonal contraceptive, which increases the risk of blood clots.
Biller treated Nimmerrichter with a blood thinner, and medications to relieve pressure in her brain caused by the swelling. She spent two weeks at Loyola and nearly three weeks at a rehabilitation hospital.
Biller said Nimmerrichter's case illustrates the benefits of treating each patient as an individual. "At Loyola, we treat individual patients with stroke, rather than strokes generically," Biller said. "We avoid the temptation of the one-size-fits-all approach, so pervasive with cookbook medicine."
Nimmerrichter's stroke occurred just after she finished her sophomore year at Loyola University Chicago. It was Friday the 13th, and she was home alone at her mother's house in Brookfield. She was discovered by her boyfriend, who came to see her after she failed to respond to a text. He found her laying in bed, staring blankly at the wall.