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37-year-old woman’s mysterious paralysis after childbirth caused by ‘ministrokes’

After collapsing out of nowhere, Kate Sippel had to push to get doctors to take her symptoms seriously.

At 37, new mom Kate Sippel knew something was seriously wrong when she suddenly collapsed out of nowhere. But getting answers wasn't easy.

In the weeks after giving birth to her son, Sippel noticed some tingling in her left arm. Then a few months later, she suddenly fell to the ground. "My whole body just hit the ground like a big lump," she told NBC's Morgan Radford.

Sippel recalled being unable to move or lift herself off the ground for about 30 seconds. "While we were a little shaken up about it, we kind of said 'Well, maybe you’re tired, stressed, something like that.'"

But the next day, it happened again while she and her family were in the car. This time, Sippel said, the left side of her body was completely paralyzed and she was unable to speak. "The only thing that came out of my mouth was garbled nonsense," she said. "I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t move my mouth, my tongue anything."

The search for answers

Sippel's husband recognized that she was likely having a stroke. But imaging tests at the hospital didn't show obvious signs of a stroke, and the doctors attributed her symptoms to stress.

But knowing that Sippel had been much more stressed in her life in the past without issues like these, the two continued to push for other answers. Sippel contacted her primary care doctor, who recommended she get evaluated by a neurologist.

The neurologist had Sippel undergo an emergency MRI, which finally revealed the source of the issue: She was diagnosed with Moyamoya disease, a rare condition in which one of the arteries at the base of the brain is blocked, resulting in transient ischemic attacks ("ministrokes").

Sippel was having 10 to 15 ministrokes per day due to the condition.

A life-changing surgery

With the diagnosis, Sippel began to take medication to help manage the condition, but she knew it would likely be something she would have to deal with for the rest of her life.

So she began to search for doctors who specialize in treating Moyamoya disease — and ended up at the Cleveland Clinic. Once doctors confirmed her diagnosis, Sippel underwent a procedure to open up a new source of blood to her brain and bypass the blocked artery.

She hasn't had a stroke since the surgery. "I joke that it was an easier recovery than my C-section," Sippel said. "I’ve been doing great."

Looking back, she's thankful she advocated for herself and that she had the support of her family in doing so. "I hope that people realize (they don't have to) take the first opinion as it is what it is," she said. "People need to be their own advocates... They need to find someone that can help them if they do not feel they’re being well taken care of where they’re at."