A New Perspective

There are moments in life that change you forever. They can happen at any time, and often occur when we’re least expecting them. Last February, Nicole Jorgenson started feeling nauseous and dizzy at a friend’s birthday party. Her symptoms were mild enough to start; she’d had a low-grade headache for the past week or so, and thinking she might be dehydrated, went to find some space to reset. On her way down the hallway, she suddenly staggered to the left, and had to hold onto the sink in the bathroom to regain her balance. She was searching but having a hard time finding words in her brain to communicate how she was feeling. A lifelong athlete, Nicole was used to pushing through pain. She grew up playing soccer, started racing bikes during college, is an avid skier, and works as a full-time ski patroller on Baldy in the winter. This kind of discomfort, though, was different. With the help of friends, she made the hard decision to go to the Emergency Room.


Nicole had experienced multiple, small strokes. She was transferred to Boise that night and stayed in the hospital there for three days, after which she spent three more days in a rehabilitation facility. That time passed in a blur – it took a few days to regain her ability to walk again because both her vision and balance were impaired by the strokes. “It felt like my eyes were spinning in different directions, and I’d have to cover one eye in order to focus,” Nicole shared. “I stayed in Boise for additional occupational therapy for six weeks – the only thing you can do after a stroke, especially in a young person, is immediate rehab.” Originally from Boise, Nicole was able to spend time with family while enjoying some natural therapy outside on the dry, foothill trails where she’d go for walks. “It was good for me to be in a different environment, away from home, to find the space to recover,” she shared. Those weeks were spent building back toward the active lifestyle she’d always lived. It was slow going, as her post-stroke brain had to build brand-new neural pathways to regain full functionality.  


Although statistically, a healthy 29-year-old woman having a stroke is a very uncommon occurrence, the type of stroke that Nicole experienced is the most common for a young person to have. It was caused by a vertebral artery dissection: the inner lining of an artery supplying oxygen to her brain tore. Thinking back, Nicole can’t recall an event that may have caused her stroke. “This type of stroke can just happen randomly, in my case it was spontaneous. However, something as simple as flipping your hair over after taking a shower can cause this to happen.” Her doctors don’t know whether she’s likely to have another stroke, forcing Nicole to make a choice – was it worth changing the life she loves living because of the chance that this may recur? Her answer was no.


Determined, she turned her complete focus toward the recovery process. It took until April to fully find her sense of balance. She was dedicated to regaining her fitness, but was on blood thinners and could not risk a slip or fall. This meant finding new workout options – she learned how to classic ski and started trail running as an alternate to mountain biking. Nicole worked with Zenergy physical therapist and strength coach Kyle Sela to develop creative, non-traditional exercises to build strength and coordination without risking further brain injury. By the end of the summer, Nicole competed in her first ever trail running race at the Targhee Cirque Series event. She wasn’t sure how she’d feel when she was cleared to bike again, but when the time came, she didn’t feel nervous – she felt ready. 


Today, Nicole is back ski patrolling full-time and working to certify her dog Diesel as an avalanche search dog. “Going through this experience forced me to pause and look at my life from a different perspective. I am overwhelmingly grateful for what I’m able to do and the lifestyle that I live,” she remarked. “You cannot force recovery, you have to let your body heal at its own pace. Throughout this journey, I have found a deeper connection to my body and life itself. My biggest takeaway is that you have to be open to whatever new things come your way.”