Brittany Scheier achieved her dream of becoming a lawyer despite the disabilities she suffered as a result of her stroke at 27.
As a mergers and acquisitions attorney at the international law firm, Kirkland & Ellis, Brittany Scheier regularly burns the midnight oil, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I do such interesting, complex work,” she said, noting she never imagined doing this type of law while growing up in rural South Dakota.
By the end of a long day, however, Brittany’s right arm often feels weak, and her eyes get tired — a result of the strokes she had last year during her final year in law school.
It all started just before Spring Break, after celebrating her 27th birthday with friends at the wineries in the Texas Hill Country. Brittany woke up in the middle of the night feeling incredibly sick to her stomach, which she thought was due to one too many glasses of wine. When she stood up, she realized she had tunnel vision and lost complete control of her right side.
“Even though I had the classic symptoms, it didn’t cross my mind that I was having a stroke,” she said. Brittany screamed for her two roommates, who carried her to the car and drove her to the emergency room. There, the nurses put her in a bed, where she sat for several hours. “They thought I was just a young person who had been out drinking,” she said.
After a few hours, Brittany began to be able to use her right side, but she was still weak and also struggled with vision problems. When she looked at a face, she would see a jumble, as if her brain couldn’t process it.
Finally, a neurologist ordered a CT scan and an MRI. Early that morning, he told Brittany she’d had a stroke. “It was shocking,” she said. “I don’t think it ever crossed the doctor’s minds either.”
Two days later, while she was waiting to be discharged, Brittany developed another headache and memory problems. Her mom insisted on a second MRI, which revealed her brain was bleeding again. This stroke was five times bigger than the first. Within minutes, a team swarmed into the room and moved her to the ICU. At her parent’s request, a priest arrived to pray over her.
“They prepped my parents that I might not make it through that night,” she said.
Blood thinners stopped the bleed, but the damage had been done. Brittany couldn’t fully understand what people were saying, and she had trouble recalling basic details such as her address or hometown. “It was terrifying,” she said. “How can I be a lawyer if I can’t remember things? How is this going to impact me long-term?”
When Brittany was finally released from the hospital, she developed a tingly pain on the right side of her body that steadily became more intense. It turned out to be thalamic pain syndrome, a rare side effect that can occur at any time after a stroke.
“Sometimes the vibrating and tingling were so strong that I couldn’t walk,” she said.
While doing speech, occupational, physical, driving and vision therapy, Brittany also returned to law school, sitting in the back of the class with her eyes closed as she recorded the lecture to play back later. “If my eyes were open, I’d get really bad headaches from all the stimulation,” she said.
Despite her difficulties, Brittany kept at it, earning her law degree, passing the bar and accepting a job with Kirkland & Ellis in Houston. “I’m forever changed because of the stroke, but a year in, I feel more like myself,” she said.
Eager for her story to make a difference, Brittany got involved with the American Heart Association’s young professionals' group, which brings together stroke and heart attack survivors, and she plans to fundraise for the organization this year. She believes her age may have caused doctors to brush off her symptoms and wants to raise awareness about age discrimination in the health care system.
"I have deficits and disabilities that I’ll have for my entire life,” she said. Indeed, prompt treatment after a stroke may prevent death and reduce the number of long-term effects.
“They thought I was on drugs just because of my age, and I don’t want other young women to go through that,” she said. “If I had been treated correctly, my entire life may have been different.”