Disease & Illness

This Woman Was Partially Paralyzed After Cracking Her Neck

Yikes! This is scary.

Cracking your neck can be momentarily satisfying. But for one young woman, the movement came with a very scary and unexpected result.

London resident Natalie Kunicki, 23, was at home watching movies with a friend when she stretched her neck and heard a loud cracking noise. Around 15 minutes later, she got up to use the bathroom and collapsed to the floor, unable to move one of her legs. It turns out that she had suffered a stroke caused by the bursting of an artery in her neck and simply stretching her neck had triggered the entire thing.

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“I wasn’t even trying to crack my neck. I just moved and it happened. I stretched my neck and I could just hear this ‘crack, crack, crack,'” she told The Daily Mail. “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.”

Afterward, Kunicki’s friend helped pick her up from the floor.

“He thought I was drunk but I knew something else was wrong,” she added. She said she initially thought she’d been drugged, and was hesitant to call for an ambulance at first.

Accident And Emergency Figures Show Worst Performance In 10 Years
Getty Images | Dan Kitwood

Kunicki was transported to the University College London Hospital, where she underwent a three-hour emergency surgery. While a surgeon was able to repair the burst blood vessel in her neck, they could not remove the blood clot in her brain, though they think it will dissolve in time.

Additionally, the left side of her body remained paralyzed by the stroke and doctors weren’t able to tell her when she’d regain her full mobility.

Fortunately, since then Kunicki has been regaining small amounts of movement in her arm and leg — but not enough to return to her job as a paramedic.

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“I’m really clumsy. I can’t do up buttons, I find it too difficult,” she said to The Daily Mail. “I can feel hot and cold now but I still feel a bit numb. The doctors just say things like ‘we’re hoping for a full recovery’ and won’t give an exact time because they don’t want to get my hopes up. But I’m determined to get back to work as soon as I can. I just love it.”

In addition, Kunicki told the publication she wants to spread awareness that strokes don’t just happen to the elderly.

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“Mine was one in a million but a ruptured vertebral artery is actually quite a common cause of strokes in young people,” she said. “They will be in the gym or doing something quite physical and it happens. Strokes are also quite common in kids.”

While Kunicki’s situation was an extremely rare incident, strokes are actually fairly common, even among young people.

Strokes are the fifth leading cause of death for Americans, according to the CDC, although the risk of having a stroke varies with race and ethnicity. Every year, more than 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke, with over 600,000 of those marking new or first-time strokes.

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And as this latest case reminds us, strokes can— and do —occur at any age, although the risk increases as people age.

Once you have a stroke, you also face a greater risk of experiencing a second one. About 185,000 strokes— nearly 1 in 4— occur in people who have already had a previous stroke.

Knowing the warning signs and symptoms of stroke is important so that you can act fast if you or someone you know might be having a stroke. The faster the affected person receives emergency treatment, the better chance they have of survival and an expedited recovery process.

As the CDC explains, “Patients who arrive at the emergency room within three hours of their first symptoms often have less disability three months after a stroke than those who received delayed care.”

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Signs of a stroke in both men and women can include sudden numbness or weakness in the face or limbs, especially on one side of the body; abrupt confusion, trouble speaking or difficulty understanding speech; sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes; and, as in Kunicki’s case, trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or lack of coordination, among other symptoms.

Again, being aware of these signs can be life-changing if you or a loved one ever experience a stroke.

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In the aftermath of her hospitalization, Kunicki’s brother has set up a GoFundMe to help support her while she is unable to work.

“My youngest sister suffered a life-changing stroke. She is normally the one helping others as a Paramedic with the London Ambulance Service,” he wrote. “Her recovery will be long-winded and she won’t be back at work for many months.  This money will be appreciated and go a long way for her own wellbeing.”

The GoFundMe has already met its goal several times over.

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Here’s to a full and speedy recovery for this young patient!