Bouncing back: Nolan’s life after stroke

Nolan experienced a stroke during or following his birth.

Although he’s only a little over a year old, Nolan Morel is a bona fide charmer. Clad in a red shirt and navy blue suspenders, he flashes a happy grin at his mother, Rosalia; his physician, Dr. Laura Lehman; and the others in the room. “Look at those dimples!” someone coos, and he giggles in response. “I can’t believe how social he’s being,” laughs Rosalia. “He wasn’t always like this.”

In fact, Nolan’s first several days of life were anything but lighthearted. Just a few hours after his birth at a hospital north of Boston, he stopped breathing and had to be manually resuscitated and given oxygen. When these frightening episodes continued on and off for the next day, his physicians contacted the Critical Care Transport team from Boston Children’s Hospital.

Concerned that the newborn was having seizures, the team quickly transferred him to the Boston Children’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). “My heart sunk,” remembers Rosalia. “I cried myself to sleep in a cold hospital bed, unable to be with my child when he needed me most.” As soon as she had recovered enough to check out of the maternity ward, she was on the way to Boston, too.

Nolan at a post-stroke visit with his mom and Dr. Laura Lehman.

Difficult news

There, she met up with her husband, Miguel, and then with Lehman from the Stroke and Cerebrovascular Center, who shared devastating news. “She gave us a sad smile and gave us Nolan’s diagnosis,” says Rosalia. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan showed that the little boy had experienced a stroke during or following his birth. About two-thirds of the right hemisphere of his brain had been affected.

The next nine days were a blur of meetings and appointments. As a cadre of nurses watched over him in the NICU, the Morels met with Nolan’s care team to learn more about the stroke, its potential effects and the treatments he would need. “They explained what his life might look like,” says Rosalia. “They thought he might be able to walk with support and need extra help at school.”

But even as they worried about the future, Rosalia and Miguel found that they could still focus on the present, without getting too overwhelmed. In the NICU, a social worker gave them guidance on how to best share the news of their son’s diagnosis with family and friends. A child life specialist took photos of the family so they could bring home happy memories of Nolan’s birth, too. “The whole staff really cared for Nolan as if he were their own child,” says Rosalia.

Nolan is thriving after care for a neonatal stroke.

A bright future after stroke

That sense of family extends back to Nolan’s care team. “Dr. Lehman has always been very available by phone or email when we have questions, and she helps us feel empowered,” explains Rosalia. “She treats us like family, and we think of her as part of ours.”

Once shy around strangers — a natural consequence of being constantly examined by clinicians — Nolan has blossomed. Regular physical and occupational therapy are helping him gain more control of his muscles, while feeding therapy has helped him master swallowing. He loves bopping to music, playing on his own or with his big sister, Hazel, and scooting around his house.

Most of all, says Rosalia, her son continues to thrive. “Nolan is doing really well,” she says. “He’s a happy boy.” As he shows those adorable dimples to Lehman one more time, it’s clear that she’s right.

Learn about the Stroke and Cerebrovascular Center.