Near-Death and New Life
As part of the chase crew for her family’s hot air balloon business, 28-year-old Ashley Bowes was used to excitement. Her life, however, became one of even more extremes during the last year and a half as she faced life-or-death challenges and life-changing joys.
Now, many months later, she can tell the story with her newborn son sleeping in the next room.
It was early in 2012 when Ashley, who lives on a farm in Southampton, New Jersey, was playing with some of the goats her family keeps. Lying on the ground, one of the goats hit her from behind with its horns. At the time, she says she “saw stars” but didn’t black out.
For the most part unfazed, she went about her normal routine. That evening, she went out to dinner with her fiancé, Harry Brock, and then returned home.
She went to bed, and within 30 minutes the entire situation changed dramatically.
Ashley began thrashing in the bed, unable to talk. She couldn’t see, had no control of her body, and her left side was paralyzed. Her fiancé, a firefighter and EMT, knew the urgency and she was rushed to her local emergency department.
She was soon rushed to Capital Health’s Capital Institute for Neurosciences (CIN). When she arrived at CIN, her body was “shutting down.”
Her seemingly innocent head bump had led to an ischemic stroke. An ischemic stroke occurs when a clot blocks the flow of blood to the brain, ultimately killing brain cells. The injury had caused bilateral vertebral artery dissections, or flap-like tears in the inner lining of the vertebral artery. This led to a clot in the basilar artery, which blocked the flow of blood.
At the Capital Institute for Neurosciences, Ashley immediately was sent for a specialized ct scan and then directly to the hospital’s cerebrovascular neurosurgical intervention suite. Dr. Mandy Binning, a neurosurgeon trained in both traditional and vascular approaches, was waiting when Ashley arrived.
“Ashley had many odds stacked against her,” said Dr. Binning, director of the Comprehensive Stroke Center at Capital Health and a fellowship trained, cerebrovascular neurosurgeon. “When she was hit, arteries in the back of her head tore, and that caused significant damage. To restore the flow of blood we had to first remove the clot and then keep the artery open, allowing the blood to flow. For her to beat the considerable odds she faced, she needed very unique and specialized medical care that can be provided at a tertiary level neuroscience center with dedicated resources. It was critical that she get to us quickly and be surrounded by a team who routinely deals with these kinds of emergency situations. ”
Ashley then went to Capital Health’s dedicated Neurosurgical Intensive Care Unit to recover from the surgery. With stents now in the back of her head opening up this critical artery, she quickly began to regain consciousness and function.
Ashley ultimately spent about two weeks at Capital Health. She was then transferred to a rehabilitation center, having overcome very significant hurdles. For her, having an experienced, dedicated team available to her so quickly was critical.
“When I think about what I went through, it’s really hard to put it into words,” said Ashley. “But I was determined, and I had age on my side. I was also comfortable with Dr. Binning from the first time I met her. Between Dr. Binning and the nurses in the Neuro ICU, I was extremely well cared for.”
About eight months after her stroke, Ashley found out she was pregnant.
“I broke down when I found out I was pregnant,” said Ashley. “Here I went through this horrible thing, overcame so many odds, relearned so many things, and now — I was being blessed with another life.”
Her pregnancy was high risk, but Ashley says she was blessed to have Dr. Binning by her side. “She was excellent. Anytime I had a question, she was there and she was very actively involved when I was pregnant,” Ashley said.
“I do believe in a higher power,” said Ashley, who has no significant deficits from the stroke. “I don’t take anything for granted. I hope people understand that they need to get checked when sustaining a head injury, I was blessed that my fiancé was there.”
As for Harry Brock, III, Ashley said, “He is my gift for going through everything I went through.”