13-year-old Cedar Rapids girl excited to go home after recovering from stroke

13-year-old Reegan Lueken is among the small number of children who experience a stroke – about 12 in 100,000 kids each year.
Updated: May. 12, 2021 at 11:45 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Reegan Lueken, a 13-year-old from Cedar Rapids, spent her afternoon Wednesday playing catch with her dad, Ben, dribbling a soccer ball around drill cones, and doing the “Cha-Cha Slide” and “Macarena.”

Every step she took in those activities was a major step ahead of where she was just over a month ago, when she could not move her left arm at all or walk without help.

It started when Reegan, a seventh-grader at Prairie Point Middle School in Cedar Rapids, was at her first track practice in late March.

“I was running around, you know, and then I felt like I was going to pass out, so I sat down, and then I just couldn’t get back up,” she said.

Ben got the call from Reegan’s friend.

“When we got there, you could tell something was not right,” he said.

He took Reegan to the emergency room, and then she was airlifted to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City, where she underwent surgery.

After, Reegan found out what happened.

“They told me I had a stroke,” she said. “I knew it kind of usually only happens in older people, so I was kind of shocked.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report about two-thirds of people who experience a stroke are 65 or older. While pediatric strokes are rare — Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia says they affect 12 in 100,000 children — they aren’t impossible.

“It’s very unusual for a young person to have a stroke,” said Dr. Nicholas Appleby, a physical medicine rehabilitation doctor at UnityPoint Health – St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids, where Reegan has been staying since April 8.

She has spent much of her time at St. Luke’s in the therapy gym, where she is relearning skills and actions that she could complete without much effort or thought several weeks ago, like walking without the assistance of therapists and picking up objects with her left hand.

Reegan said that process of relearning has been the most difficult part of her rehab.

“Because your brain has to remember how to move your leg, how to use my arm,” she said.

Her parents participate in therapy sessions with her — “pretty much living in a hospital for a month to support her,” Ben said — and her older sister comes by every night for dinner.

While therapy has been challenging, Reegan said it has also been fun, and as she gets stronger, she’s been using her time in the hospital to find the positives from such a rare and scary situation.

“Well, I didn’t die, so that was good,” she said.

Her therapists and doctors said her attitude and hard work are paying off.

“She’s your ideal patient,” Danielle DeTour, Reegan’s occupational therapist, said. “She works on using that left hand versus just doing things with her right hand just because it’s easier.”

Dr. Appleby said younger people tend to recover from strokes well because of their brain’s plasticity, its ability to adapt and adjust.

“I don’t think I’ve really had many harder working people than Reegan, adults or children, so I think that’s really helped her recovery significantly,” he said.

Reegan will still need to undergo testing to figure out what caused her stroke, plus more physical therapy.

But this Friday, she is scheduled to go home.

“Yeah, we’re pretty excited for her to get home,” Ben said, adding Reegan will return to St. Luke’s twice a week for rehab and complete her own at-home therapy. She will also attend half-days of school.

“I’m excited. But I’m also going to miss it here,” Reegan echoed, saying she appreciated getting to know the staff at St. Luke’s during her stay.

But after six weeks in the hospital, there’s one thing she’s looking forward to most: “Just laying in my bed, sleeping there.”

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