23-year-old Paramedic Natalie Kunicki was left paralyzed after suffering a stroke. That's a young age for anyone to have a stroke, especially someone who works in the medical field and has a pretty good understanding of self-care. But it turns out Natalie's paralysis was brought on by a perpetual habit tons of people do on a daily basis: excessive joint cracking.
There's something undeniably satisfying about cracking your joints. I'm convinced that 100 percent of people who become chiropractors do it because they love that sound. Sure you get the added benefit of "helping people" and "relieving pain" and "improving their quality of life" but we all know the real reward is that bone-release action.
The thing is though, if you were raised by overly protective parents and grandparents like me, then you've probably heard some horror stories and urban legends about cracking your neck.
Obviously I wasn't going to listen to what my Nana said — she couldn't even drive a car and called my Sega Genesis a "Nintendo," so what did she know?
Well, it turns out I maybe should've listened to Nana after all, because reading about the way Natalie paralyzed herself is giving me some major second thoughts about cracking my joints and releasing those sweet pockets of air.
After a night out with her friend, she decided to hop into bed and watch movies. Then, she stretched her neck until she heard a really loud "crack."
No big deal, just a louder-than-normal one, right? Especially because she didn't feel any immediate pain or anything. Cut to Natalie going to sleep, then waking up 15 minutes later, unable to move her left leg.
When she tried getting up out of bed, she fell to the ground and couldn't walk. She was soon rushed to the hospital where a CT scan had confirmed that she indeed suffered a stroke. The cause of it? The loud neck crack. It had severed Natalie's vertebral artery in her neck, which burst and caused a clot that formed in her brain. It was only a matter of time before the clot caused a stroke, which lead to her scary symptoms.
Natalie had to undergo extensive physical therapy to regain her movement. She was admitted to the hospital on March 5, 2019, and was discharged on the 28th. Though she is expected to make a full recovery, had the blood clot entered her brain differently, she might not be around today to tell her story, regardless of how young and healthy she is.
Now, she's warning others about the dangers of incessant neck and joint cracking, as well as the dangers strokes pose to us all, regardless of our ages.
"People need to know that even if you're young, something this simple can cause a stroke. I wasn't even trying to crack my neck. I just moved and it happened," she said.
"I'm a paramedic and I didn't ring 999 for 10 minutes because I thought it was too unlikely it would be a stroke when I should have known much better. Every minute more of your brain cells are dying, so don't ever discount a stroke just because someone is young."
Natalie continued, "People need to be more mindful when doing any chiropractic exercises or strenuous gym weights. I was in bed watching stuff with a friend when it happened.
"I stretched my neck and I could just hear this 'crack, crack, crack'. My friend asked 'was that your neck?' but all my joints crack quite a bit so I didn't think anything of it. I just laughed."
When she was initially told she had suffered a stroke, Natalie couldn't believe what the doctors were telling her. She didn't have any of the risk factors. "I don't smoke, I don't really drink, I don't have any family history of strokes so it's quite strange it happened to me when I was just moving in bed."
She attributes her recovery to the tough love that her friends gave her. They allowed Natalie a week long "pity party" but then immediately forced her to do her exercises and get back on the saddle, so to speak.
It's a good thing that they did:
"...a couple of my friends from the ambulance service told me, 'You have a week from the day of your stroke to snap out of this or we will snap you out of it.'
"I was able to have my little pity party for a week but that's it. They told me, 'What's done is done now - just work and do all the exercises.'"
Natalie's chomping at the bit to get back to work and live life, and a lot of that is due to the fact that she worked so diligently to get better:
That initial phone call to emergency services (999) in the UK was a bit daunting for Natalie, especially because she was out drinking and figured they wouldn't take her claim seriously. That is, until she informed them that she was a paramedic:
"I think they did look at me at first like they thought I was just a classic drunk 23-year-old but I told them I was a paramedic and I knew something was wrong."
After she learned of her diagnosis, Natalie admitted that she was feeling depressed and who can blame her? What 23-year-old with an active lifestyle wants to find out that they're paralyzed after suffering a stroke and now have to face a long road to recovery as a result?
"I expected to wake up from this miracle surgery and everything would be fixed but my mobility was worse and they couldn't clear the clot. At the start I couldn't move my thumb and forefinger. I could kind of move my wrist up and down. I couldn't lift my arm. I could bend my left leg but I couldn't wiggle my toes.
Natalie's recovery is an ongoing process. She still has some difficulty walking for extended periods of time but she's making progress more and more each day and is looking forward to the day when she can live alone again without fear of injury.
Her sister has set up a GoFundMe page in order to help Natalie cover the cost of her recovery and get her life back on track after such a scary event. You can check it out here.