Learning to learn again

Amelia Galan, headshot.
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Amelia Galan doesn’t shy away from a challenge.

Whether she’s grappling with an opponent as a member of Adolfo Camarillo High School’s wrestling team or battling for a loose ball during a water polo match, the 18-year-old senior likes to mix it up.

Last year, however, Amelia was faced with the toughest fight of her life, against an opponent she never saw coming.

It was the evening of July 1, and Amelia was at her Camarillo home about to head out for a cycling class when she started to feel nauseated and her vision became clouded with bright spots.

“I expected it to stop soon,” said the teen, who thought she might simply be dehydrated. “But it just kept going, and then the whole room started spinning.”

Amelia’s mom, Suzy Galan, came home shortly after Amelia started feeling sick. At first the mother of three thought her oldest daughter had gotten into a bottle of wine.

“She was falling and talking slow,” Galan said. “She couldn’t sit up straight.”

It didn’t take Galan long to realize that it wasn’t liquor that was causing Amelia to act strangely—something was wrong with her daughter.

“The right side of my body was numb. It was scary,” Amelia said.

Galan rushed Amelia to the emergency room, where doctors ordered a battery of tests to determine what was wrong with the teen, who was in good physical condition due to sports and frequent workouts.

An MRI showed fluid in Amelia’s brain; doctors determined she’d had a stroke.

“You just think, ‘This can’t be happening. I’m not understanding this correctly,’” Galan said of her feelings when she and her husband, Arthur, were told of the stroke. “It’s impossible, but it’s irrefutable because you’re looking at the evidence.”

Amelia spent the next five days recovering in the hospital. It was difficult for her to speak and her memory had been shattered. Doctors were waiting and watching to see how much damage she had suffered because of the stroke.

“(The doctors) asked me lots of questions, but it was really frustrating because I’d know what to say in my head, but for some reason when I was talking to the doctor, I couldn’t get the right words out,” Amelia said.

Her ability to move her right side returned quickly, but speech and memory were slower to come back.

Galan and her daughter are thankful that Amelia had youth and good health on her side.

Amelia recovered slowly but surely, and by late August she was determined to return to school so she could graduate.

“I don’t want to lower my standards just because of what I’ve been through,” said Amelia, who underwent surgery in December to fix the small hole in her heart that doctors believe caused the blood clot that triggered her stroke.

Studying was difficult—Amelia’s vision and memory have been affected by the stroke—but she was focused on completing her senior year.

She was so intent on graduating that she endured severe headaches in January during her final exams. She learned that the stress of the tests had triggered seizures—common for stroke victims—forcing her to realize she needed to slow down.

She returned to the wrestling and water polo teams, although she wasn’t allowed to compete in matches due to her bloodthinning medication.

Being able to exercise with the permission of her doctors helped Amelia deal with the stress she was feeling.

For her effort, Amelia’s water polo team named her the player with the most heart. She credits her coaches, especially Ron Wilson, with allowing her to stay on the teams and encouraging her to succeed.

Nearly a year later—doctors say the two years after a stroke are the most critical in determining whether a patient will have a full recovery—Amelia continues her cognitive and speech therapy and shows ongoing improvement.

She was able to attend prom with her boyfriend last month.

Galan, who becomes tearyeyed when talking about her daughter, said the stroke has made the family appreciate “the little things” more and has brought the stay-at-home mom even closer to her daughter.

“It just gives you a fresher look at your kids,” Galan said. “You realize it’s not what college they go to, what their GPA is, what sport they do. Our kids are just so precious. It’s just a beautiful thing to have them.”

Amelia will receive her diploma today alongside 550 of her Camarillo High classmates during the afternoon graduation ceremony at the school.

“It’s just a relief to have gotten through all that and now to be graduating,” said Amelia, who plans to attend Moorpark College in the fall with hopes of eventually transferring to a four-year university in Northern California to become a teacher.

The teen said her summer will include trips to the beach and a visit to Disneyland. In addition, she will work part-time at a day camp for children and continue to work out.

“I don’t really consider that I had a stroke because I still want to do all the same things that everyone else does,” Amelia said.

And if anyone tells her otherwise, the teen has no problem reminding them that she’s a fighter.

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