Minnesota Girl Making Strides after Stroke

Updated: 05/16/2014 6:26 PM KSTP.com By: Naomi Pescovitz

Stroke can happen in an instant and change a life forever. It’s the third leading cause of death in Minnesota, with more than 11,000 Minnesotans hospitalized for stroke in 2010.

Though older people are more susceptible to stroke, it can happen at any age.

Nine-year-old Emma Friesen of Willmar had a stroke when she was 2 years old.

"It left her unable to do anything. Hold up her own head, eat and drink, she couldn't even make the sound for laughing or crying," said Emma's mom, Sarah Friesen.

Emma was born with a congenital heart condition. A few days after surgery she had a stroke, damaging 30 percent of her brain.

"I think the thing that struck us the most was that blackness, that darkness behind her eyes. She just wasn't there anymore," Sarah Friesen said.

After weeks at metro children's hospitals, Emma started to change.

"After a couple of weeks she started smiling again a little bit, and she started laughing," Sarah Friesen said.

On Thursday, the Friesens went to their first Twins game as a family. Emma threw the first pitch; a moment her parents never imagined would be possible.

"She's sweet, she's kind, she's a hard worker, she never gives up," said Emma's dad, Kevin Friesen.

Emma still needs a brace for her right leg and she cannot use her right hand, but the Friesens have adjusted.

"Everybody in my family is right handed, teaching her how to do stuff with her left hand," Kevin Friesen said.

"Running around at school and swimming lessons and all of those things it’s just, we never would have dreamed of how far she could come," Sarah Friesen said.

Stroke is far more common in adults than in children. The risk of stroke doubles every 10 years starting at the age of 55.

Dr. Ron Tarrel, a neurologist with Noran Neurological Clinic, says the warning signs are sudden and abrupt.

"It's a sudden development of weakness or numbness on one side of the body or the other. Or sudden changes in vision. It can be sudden changes in their ability to understand language or to be able to speak themselves," said Tarrel said.

Emma will be honored again on Saturday, May 17 at the annual Minnesota Stroke Association "Strides for Stroke" walk.

The event starts at 9:45 a.m. at Battle Creek Regional Park in St. Paul. Click here to learn more.