Young Springs architect survives stroke caused by tumor on gland
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Survivor Amanda Orsillo with her son Levi Orsillo and mother Mary Ann Cruser. Courtesy of Amanda Orsillo

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Amanda Orsillo was 31 years old, healthy, active and building business at her own architecture firm in Colorado Springs. On April 4, 2009, life threw her a curveball and she had a stroke.

That morning, Orsillo woke up and felt completely numb on one side of her body. “I thought maybe I had just slept wrong, but when the other side went numb, I woke my husband,” she said. Between the time she got in the car and the time she arrived at the emergency room just a few blocks away, she couldn’t walk and required a wheelchair to take her MRI and CAT scans. “They determined it was a stroke and had to get me up to Denver in the middle of a horrible snowstorm. All the helicopters were grounded and they drove me up on a heparin drip, which is a blood-thinning IV,” she said. “That was six years ago – now Penrose has such an advanced stroke facility and people don’t need to go up to Denver, which is huge considering treating stroke is all about timing. It’s better for survival rates and good for the community.”

Penrose-St. Francis Health Services provides 24/7 advanced stroke treatment and was named a certified Advanced Primary Stroke Center by The Joint Commission. Penrose-St. Francis is part of Centura Health, the region’s leading healthcare network.

Orsillo was diagnosed with a bilateral vertebral artery dissection, meaning both arteries in her brainstem were falling apart and it was too risky to perform surgery. “I was playing a waiting game,” she said. After a couple days, doctors decided to face the risk of surgery and placed two stents in Orsillo’s right artery, leaving the left artery closed. “I just remember laying in the bed and they were wheeling me into the OR, my husband kissed me, my parents and sister were there, I knew this might be goodbye,” she said.

Thankfully, Orsillo lived through surgery, and doctors discovered the mysterious cause of the stroke one month later: a tumor on Orsillo’s adrenal gland was causing her to suffer from Cushing’s syndrome. “I had twenty times the normal amount of cortisol in my body, which gave me high blood pressure and weakened my internal tissues, and that’s what caused the stroke,” she said. “I had the tumor and my entire adrenal gland removed.” Orsillo was told her second adrenal gland would produce enough cortisol to compensate for the missing gland. “But it had atrophied and wasn’t producing enough, so I almost died a second time,” she said. “I went back to the hospital, got on cortisol and it took me a good year to fully recover. I had lost my muscle tone and coordination, but the Penrose rehab team was amazing and really helped me fight my way back.” Orsillo went through a month and half of rehabilitation at Penrose Hospital, visiting once or twice a week. “My therapist was so conscientious and helpful and gave me exercises and tips to help my body recover well.”

Now 38, Orsillo has had a son and re-established her architecture firm, Orsillo Design. She has worked on several major projects around Colorado Springs, including retail centers and exhibits at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, like the Australia Walkabout exhibit that re-opens June 5. “I’m just thankful to be here and have my life back,” Orsillo said. “It’s been a long road to recovery, but I want to share my story to bring to light that stroke can happen to anyone – at any age, in any shape, it’s important to listen to your body and know that there is great stroke care here in the Springs.”

Pikes Peak Newspapers, Editor

Hannah Blick has lived in the Pikes Peak region for six years. She studied journalism at Kansas State University and enjoys biking, skiing and hiking in the Rockies.

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