It was just like any other morning for mother-of-three Victoria Devorak.

It was October 29, 2019, one month after she had given birth. The healthy mum and nurse was changing her baby boy's nappy.

Then moments later her life turned upside down.

She started seeing double before she suddenly couldn't see at all. She shouted for her husband, Billy, to come and help.

Advertisement

As she laid limp on the bed, Billy called emergency services.

It turned out Devorak had had a stroke.

Despite being a healthy home-care nurse, the news came as an absolute shock to the New Jersey-based mother.

"It's just baffling," Devorak, 31, of Mount Holly, New Jersey, told Today. "This stroke was coming out of left field."

Devorak exercises every week and eats well, is a non smoker, and lives a healthy lifestyle.

But now she's warning other parents about how women are at an increased risk of suffering a stroke within three months of giving birth, and that her symptoms were not clear that she had a stroke.

"My face never drooped," Devorak said.

"When I had slumped over, that's when Billy knew we were in trouble and that it was probably a stroke.

Advertisement

"None of the conversations from my first pregnancy, my second or this one has anybody approached me and told me that there could be complications, such as stroke," she said.

"Even somebody who is in very good health can have [a stroke]."

Just a month after having her third son, Victoria Devorak had a stroke. She had no idea pregnancy and postpartum put her at higher risk. Photo / Devorak family
Just a month after having her third son, Victoria Devorak had a stroke. She had no idea pregnancy and postpartum put her at higher risk. Photo / Devorak family

Doctor Kirsty Yuan, an assistant professor of clinical neurology at Penn Medicine in Philadelphia, explained why women are more prone to strokes after birth.

"Doctors are concerned about what's called hypercoagulation - your blood is a little bit more pro-clotting and the blood may be a little thicker," she said.

"Her only risk factor was just this postpartum period and immobility."

Despite women being at increased risk of a stroke post-pregnancy, it is still extremely rare and occurs in approximately 34 per 100,000 deliveries.

Devorak spent many hours nursing her baby, sometimes sleeping upright in bed after a late-night feeding (lots of sitting and immobility can lead to more clots forming).

But after she arrived at the Comprehensive Stroke Center at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, doctors performed tests and noticed that her patent foramen ovale, a flap between the two upper parts of the heart, had not closed.

Babies are born with it open, but it normally grows shut. When it doesn't, the defect can damage the heart, lungs or cause a stroke. Like other adults with it, Devorak had no idea she had it.

"Because my blood was thicker during the period and I had formed a clot, which they said was pretty substantial in size," she explained. "The flap of my PFO opened up and that's when it shot right up to my brain."

Yuan added that while this sounds scary it is not considered a typical risk factor for stroke.

By the time she returned home on November 1, she was able to move around using a walker and she now walks unassisted, though she still has some weakness.

The stroke also impacted her vision and she can't see from the upper quadrants of her eyes.

Devorak credits her husband for saving her life, saying she wouldn't be here if it wasn't for his quick action.

"My husband saved my life," she said. "If he wasn't home, I don't know what would have happened."