Leanne Spanza

Bold Colours. Simple Lines. Happy Art.

Canadian Landscape Painter

Three Years Ago I had a Stroke.

I know this isn't art related but I thought I would share this story with you in hopes that it might create a little awareness about the risks of stroke and high blood pressure during pregnancy.

3 years ago today I had a stroke. Jack was born 40 hours later. The scary thing was that I didn't know it was happening and for awhile I didn't talk about it. But now I do. The Okanagan Heart and Stroke Foundation has been a wonderful supporter, I've participated in the annual Art Attack Fundraiser and last October I was one of the key note speakers at the Red Dress Gala. Below is the speech I made before I walked the runway (in 4" heels too). Hopefully if you or someone you know is pregnant keep watch on your blood pressure and know the warning signs. 

xo Leanne


I was 30 and we were expected our second baby in the early spring of 2013. Our daughter Joni was 3, we bought a lovely home out in Lake Country and I had just dove into being a full time artist after leaving the engineering field.

With my last pregnancy my blood pressure had gradually increased and it was something we consistently monitored with my doctor. I was induced with our daughter  and she arrived healthy and strong at 39 weeks.

This time around I was careful, I ate better and rested as much as I could with an energetic three year old but at 38 weeks my blood pressure shot up, much faster than with my first pregnancy. I went to the doctor and was told to be on bed rest. No walking around, just sitting or laying in down.

The next day was my baby shower. I still just sat down and visited, didn't move around more than I was allowed to and it was a very small gathering. I remember standing up to use the washroom when I started to feel nauseous and my vision went blurry.

In between pregnancies I would sometimes get migraines and although I had never had one during a pregnancy, I assumed this was one coming on. The symptoms were similar.

I asked for a drink of water and sat back down to rest, and breathe. I remember being on the couch and listening to the kids and my friends conversations. I remember not being able to piece the conversations together. The string of words that I heard were not making sense. I remember not being able to think of the correct words when someone asked me a question. I couldn't remember the word 'Parking', it kept coming out as Princess, or Potatoe until I finally said 'that space where you drive a car into'.

The baby shower ended quickly after that, I took some Tylenol, rested and eventually my symptoms lightened. I went to bed.

The next morning I called my doctor and described my 'strange migraine'. He told me to rush down to the hospital as soon as I can. My blood pressure was through the roof and I spent the next few hours being monitored at the hospital.

That's when I learned that it wasn't a migraine but a small stroke and that I was 'lucky'.

While there it was also noted that I was measuring on the smaller side. Being 38 weeks, and feeling anything BUT small, that almost seemed like a compliment But I knew it wasn't. I went for an ultrasound to check our baby (we didn't know if it was a boy or a girl). Our doctor told me that yes, I was measuring small and that our baby was also measuring small. I remember saying that our daughter was 6 pounds 10 ounces which I thought and knew, to be small by our families history. Then he said very seriously. NO, I mean really small. As in four to four and a half pounds small.

My heart sank.

The baby seemed to be doing ok but it turned out that my placenta had been shutting down prematurely and our baby needed to come out asap. So on March 11, 2013 at 38 weeks I was induced. Carefully. Still in the early stages of labour, during one of the contractions our baby's heart rate plummeted by almost half and the nurse ran out of that dark room. 

The rest is a long story that happened over a very short period of time. It was the scariest, darkest moments of my life and I'm sure my husbands life too. But it turned into love when our son Jack was born on March 12 at 4:30am by an emergency c section. His tiny body and heart couldn't handle labour and they didn't think he would have survived. He weighed just 4.5 pounds and was rushed to the NICU where he stayed for almost a week until we could come home. Today he's a healthy and happy 2.5 year old who loves trucks and chocolate chip cookies. 

It took me almost two years to open up to people what had happened during Jack's pregnancy. I'm not quite sure why I didn't talk about it. Maybe it was that I didn't want to worry our families. Or scare my friends. That I was kind of embarrassed about what had happened. But I think the real reason was that I didn't want to accept what happened to me, to us, because that means that I shouldn't have any more kids. And that hurts.

I took part in the Heart and Stroke Foundations Art Attack event last February where I created a painting, along with 7 other Okanagan Artists in under an hour. The paintings were then auctioned off to raise money for the foundation. I opened up about my story then and met the wonderful organizers, Jessica and Wendy, who asked me to speak tonight. It took some convincing but then I thought about all my friends, cousins and family who are getting pregnant and having babies, and how my situation took me and my family by surprise. I thought - if I can share my story, bring awareness to the risks of high blood pressure and stroke during pregnancy, and potentially help someone else, then absolutely this is something I should do.


For more info on Heart and Stroke please visit http://www.heartandstroke.com