The World Forum - July 21st, 2024

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I’m Having a Stroke: 18-Year-Old Survivor Thanks Penn for Helping Her Regain Independence


On July 15, a month before she was due to start college, Sophie Borrelli was on vacation with her boyfriend’s family on the Jersey Shore when she began to feel ill.

The average 18-year-old, let alone a young and fit lacrosse player like Sophie, who worked out frequently and ate healthy foods, might not assume they were having a stroke. But in Sophie’s final semester of high school outside of Philadelphia, she had worked in a local hospital as part of her school’s allied health program to learn about different health careers. At the end of the term, she had to choose one of her hospital rotations to write a paper on. She picked strokes.

Sophie was right: She had suffered a PICA (posterior inferior cerebellar artery) stroke, which affects the artery responsible for coordination, dizziness, and balance. She was airlifted from a regional hospital to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) for care by the Neuroscience team.

From HUP, Sophie was transferred to Penn Medicine Rehabilitation – HUP’s inpatient rehabilitation unit at Penn Medicine Rittenhouse – where she participated in daily therapy to improve her strength, balance, and coordination. She quickly progressed to the Penn Therapy & Fitness outpatient rehabilitation program in Radnor.

In sharing her story with GSPP, Sophie thanked her rehab therapists for giving her the skills and confidence to regain her independence. Five weeks after her stroke, Sophie started her freshman year at the University of Florida, where she is in the honors program, following a pre-med track.