It may seem like the cards have been stacked against Peg Cavanaugh. She was born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, had heart surgery at eight years old and wasn’t expected to live past her 21st birthday. Then, just before Christmas, she had a major stroke.
But Cavanaugh, known by most as Aunt Peg, has never let anything stop her or get her down.
“It’s a mental state,” Cavanaugh said. “You have to keep going forward.”
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Peg Cavanaugh grins as she pedals on the bike during physical therapy at St. Vincent Kokomo on Wednesday morning, January 3, 2018. After suffering a stroke earlier in December, Cavanaugh is in good spirits and is making good progress with her recovery. Kelly Lafferty Gerber / Kokomo Tribune
Cavanaugh was born March 4, 1970, on an Air Force base in Guam. At a young age, she was taken on a plane, where one of her eardrums burst and the other was badly damaged, leaving her mostly deaf. When her family moved to Peru, Indiana, she attended a school in Logansport, where she learned sign language and learned to speak by feeling the vibrations on her throat.
The year she had her first heart surgery, 1978, was also the year she started mowing lawns and shoveling snow. She remembers shoveling snow in a blizzard that year. To this day, she’s not a big fan of the cold, but she loves snow.
She’s been independent most of her life, defying the odds that seemed stacked against her at birth. According to her niece, Krissy Boyd, she wasn’t expected to live to see her 21st birthday, but she’s now just a few months away from turning 48.
Cavanaugh helped raise Boyd and Boyd’s brothers while their parents were working, teaching them all to sign. To Boyd, Aunt Peg is one of the most important people in the world.
St. Vincent Kokomo physical therapist Gill Moran points at where he and Peg Cavanaugh will walk to as part of her phusical therapy. After suffering a stroke several weeks ago, Peg Cavanaugh is making good progress with her recovery. Kelly Lafferty Gerber / Kokomo Tribune
Before Cavanaugh’s stroke in early December, Boyd would talk on the phone with Cavanaugh at least once a day and sometimes multiple times a day. Then one night, Boyd and her niece went to Facetime with Cavanaugh, who didn’t answer.
“It wasn’t unusual because she could have been at a basketball game or with friends,” Boyd said. “I didn’t think much of it.”
As the night went on, Boyd tried calling again, and when Cavanaugh didn’t answer, she became worried.
“It was completely weird,” Boyd said.
Peg Cavanaugh walks with St. Vincent Kokomo physical therapist Gill Moran on January 03, 2018 as she grows stronger after suffering stroke in December. Kelly Lafferty Gerber / Kokomo Tribune
She checked Facebook Messenger, which shows the last time someone was using the app, and it said Cavanaugh hadn’t logged in for 15 hours. It was an immediate red flag to Boyd, who described Cavanaugh as a “Facebook-aholic.”
Boyd began making calls to everyone she could think of. She called her brother, Zach Boyd, who said he’d talked to Cavanaugh earlier that day but hadn’t heard from her since. She called Cavanaugh’s boss at Harvey Hinklemeyer’s, who said she hadn’t come in to eat that night; Cavanaugh ate at Harvey’s nearly every evening.
Finally, a retired police officer went to Cavanuagh’s home and found her lying on the floor near the door. They weren’t sure how long she’d been out, but they guess it was around six hours.
“I don’t know what happened,” Cavanaugh said. “All I remember is taking heart medicine and then ‘boom.’”
Peg Cavanaugh looks up at physical therapist Gill Moran while he helps her out of her wheelchair and givers her instructions during physical therapy at St. Vincent Kokomo on January 3, 2018. After sufferings stoke. Peg Cavanugh is making good progress with her recovery. Kelly Lafferty Gerber / Kokomo Tribune
She remembers lying on the floor, but she doesn’t remember how it happened or how long she was out. When she woke up in the hospital, she knew she was in pain but she didn’t know where she was.
At first, it was difficult to get her to respond, but Krissy and Zach knew she might be able to sign. They started asking her simple questions, and she would sign “yes” or “no.”
She was moved to a hospital in Ft. Wayne, where a doctor started preparing them for the worst, but Krissy informed him Cavanaugh was able to respond to her and Zach. When she told him that, he rushed out of the room, saying they only had a short window of time.
If they worked quickly, he told them, they would be able to do surgery that could remove the blockage from her brain. He informed them it was a risky procedure, and it would take up to three hours to complete.
An hour and a half later, Cavanaugh was successfully out of surgery and ready to begin recovering. She was moved to St. Vincent Kokomo, where she’s been in rehab over the last few weeks.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Edmonton and Area Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Network.