How Surviving a Stroke When I was 33 Reshaped My Outlook on Life—And My Career as a Physician Associate

From an early age, I knew my calling was a career in medicine that would have a dual focus on high-quality patient care and a meaningful impact on people’s lives. By the time I was 30, I achieved this—and more. I had worked in New York City at Jacobi Medical Center treating patients in neurosurgery and built an online network of thousands of PAs navigating their careers as medical professionals while also being present and active parents. Balance is difficult to achieve in any industry or career, but it is especially challenging working in medicine. There is so much responsibility in having patients who are at their most vulnerable looking for stability and support. This was a responsibility I was truly honored to have.

I felt on top of the world and unstoppable—and then, without warning, my whole world suddenly changed on November 8, 2020. While enjoying an ordinary Sunday morning with my husband and two young children, my left side went numb, my face began to droop, and I became unaware of my surroundings. At the age of 33, as a result of a car accident that occurred days prior, I was experiencing a catastrophic stroke. I was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance and after a 4-hour procedure to open my middle cerebral artery, I regained consciousness. I wondered if I was going to survive and watch my children grow up. And then it hit me, “my career is over.” Being a PA is a part of who I am and the fear of losing that was gut-wrenching.

When I was discharged from the hospital, I began intense physical and cognitive therapy. The rehabilitation was draining and hard, but I persevered. I also yearned for more meaning in my future, especially my career, after such a tragic event happened to me. The fear of losing my identity as a PA was devastating to me. Nevertheless, the encouragement received by over 13,000 members of PA moms, rejuvenated me. Turning my fear into purpose. Motivating and strengthening me, I realized this was my calling—To give back to the PA profession, my colleagues, and patients in a different way than initially anticipated. Using my story, I found a renewed sense of self and strength to facilitate growth onto others.

It’s now been 20 months since that fateful day. The road to recovery is long and ongoing. Healing after stroke isn’t linear and some days are easier than others. Recovering from my stroke both physically and mentally has been by far the biggest challenge of my life and one I’m still working through each and every day. However, I have persevered, yearned for more and will continue to pay it forward by helping others overcome all obstacles and giving them a sense of security as they face their challenges.

Education, mentorship, training, and leadership have now become the pillars of my career. By collaborating with other PAs across the country, I co-founded PAs for Women Empowerment in 2021. This group is now a caucus affiliated with the AAPA. I’ve also found a new passion for advocacy work. I am an active member of multiple committees at the Texas Academy of PAs and I am a delegate at the 2022 AAPA House of Delegates (HOD) meeting, and actively engage with hundreds of PAs through both PA Moms and PAs for Women Empowerment.

In this next chapter of my life, which I am so fortunate to have, I want to continue to expand this foundation, deepen my partnerships and continue to empower PAs across the country ensuring my colleagues become the best version of themselves.

 

Raquelle Akavan, MS, PA-C
PA Educator | PA Community Creator

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