Banding together: Finding support for pediatric stroke

stroke recovery
Surrounded by his family, Patrick walks unassisted after recovering from a stroke.

Cristina Murphy is the daughter of a cardiologist, but even she wasn’t aware that stroke could occur in children — until her young son Patrick had one. Her vibrant little boy was just a toddler when he was rushed to the emergency room for what his parents and their pediatrician initially assumed was a severe stomach bug. But further testing confirmed the unimaginable: Patrick had experienced a rare bilateral cerebellar stroke.

“We came to Boston Children’s Hospital at a horrible time for our family,” admits Cristina. “But the physicians there — particularly Dr. Michael Rivkin and Dr. Liliana Goumnerova — essentially saved Patrick’s life. They helped us all get through an extremely difficult experience.”

treatment for pediatric stroke

A dedicated team

The time Patrick spent in the intensive care unit (ICU) overshadowed what should have been a joyful spring: He underwent surgery on his second birthday, followed by a medically induced coma to let his body heal. He finally headed home from Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital on Cristina’s birthday.

Through intensive occupational, physical and speech therapy, Patrick has slowly regained his ability to walk, talk, eat and perform other functions that he lost after the stroke. Although it’s taken a good two years for him to fully recover, he’s been able to exceed every expectation — and his parents are grateful to have had a dedicated team on his side. “People were cheering Patrick on and holding our hands along the way,” remembers Cristina. “It really felt like he had his own little army.”

little boy after stroke

Creating support for families

One integral part of that team has been Dr. Rivkin, director of the Stroke and Cerebrovascular Center. “He’s helped take care of Patrick since he had the stroke,” says Cristina. “My son absolutely adores him — he’s become like a part of our family.”

So when Dr. Rivkin asked Cristina if she would be interested in corresponding with two other moms of pediatric stroke survivors, she jumped at the chance. While she appreciates the care that Patrick has received, it hasn’t always been easy to find information about pediatric stroke. “During our first meeting, the three of us [moms] had an immediate connection,” she says. “Even though we had incredibly different situations, there were a lot of similarities in how we felt.”

That connection has blossomed into a plan for a larger family support program. “If we could all share resources and help guide other families from the moment of diagnosis, imagine how powerful that could be,” Cristina says. “There’s a lot we didn’t know when Patrick was diagnosed. An organized support program can help parents and kids feel like they’re not alone.”

patrick and emma
Patrick with his sister

Giving back

Cristina and her friends will share their vision for family support on May 19 at the first annual Stroke Family Day, sponsored by the Stroke and Cerebrovascular Center. Along with educational talks by Dr. Rivkin, who founded the Center, and other Center experts, the event will mark the first time that the three moms will meet in person.

It’s also an opportunity for Patrick to connect with other young stroke survivors. Now in kindergarten, he loves to swim, play soccer, hang out with his big sister and is obsessed with all things superhero. And he’s eager to share his experience with others. “He understands that he had a stroke when he was younger,” says Cristina. “He’s proud of who he is and wants to help give back to other kids.”

Learn about the Stroke and Cerebrovascular Center.