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Caldwell mother awaits surgery following stroke that 8-year-old daughter caught

Kailey George, 8, helped save her mother, Christie Cunningham, who suffered a stroke. Kailey was honored with a Life Saving Award from the Canyon County Paramedics in November. (Chris Bronson - Idaho Press-Tribune).

CALDWELL — Thanks to an 8-year-old Caldwell girl’s persistence, a mother experiencing a stroke lived to see another day.

Soon, Christie Cunningham, 35, will undergo surgery to close a hole in her heart that is believed to be the reason she had a stroke in September.

Cunningham is young and didn’t have risk factors that could lead to a stroke, such as smoking, high blood pressure or high cholesterol, she said.

Prior to her stroke, she had no idea she had a hole in her heart.

Dr. Karen Porth, neurologist at Saint Alphonsus, said about 20 percent of the population has a hole in their heart. The only time it becomes a problem is when a blood clot travels through the hole in the heart and to the brain, which is what happened to Cunningham.

“It’s scary because a lot of people don’t know (they have a hole in their heart) and could be more at risk,” Cunningham said.

Now, Cunningham is preparing for surgery Tuesday to fill the hole in her heart. She expects to be back to work within a week of the surgery but won't be able to do any heavy lifting for a month, she said.

Under different circumstances, Cunningham, a mother of four, might not be alive today.

Cunningham’s 8-year-old daughter, Kailey George, wasn’t feeling well at school in September. Cunningham got off work early to pick Kailey up from Vision Charter School and take her home for the day.

What happened after was unusual.

Cunningham was experiencing back pain, so she said she tried to lie down on the floor and use a foam roller. During the process, she fell to the floor and became paralyzed, she said.

Cunningham said Kailey, who is in second grade, quickly realized something was wrong, but Cunningham couldn’t see it the same way. Cunningham said she was talking funny and the side of her mouth began to droop. She thought maybe she just needed some water, but when Kailey brought her some, Cunningham could not move her arm to drink it.

“Are you playing tricks?” Kailey asked her mom.

Because Cunningham was insistent that Kailey not call 911, Kailey instead called her dad and told him what was going on. After he heard Cunningham talk, he called 911.

As a nurse herself, Cunningham said she can’t believe she wasn’t catching on to the signs of stroke.

“She (Kailey) caught it all,” Cunningham said.

Kailey received a Life Saving Award in November in front of her classmates and the paramedics and police for the quick thinking that possibly saved her mom’s life.

Porth suggested Kailey receive the award because without her quick actions, Cunningham's stroke could have been much more traumatic, she said.

"I’m just glad she’s still alive," Kailey said.

Cunningham said she will have to take baby aspirin for the rest of her life following the surgery. Prior to the surgery she has been taking blood thinners.

“This really makes you take nothing for granted,” she said. “I don’t want to miss out on anything.”

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