Mom suffers near-fatal stroke just hours after giving birth

Christina Aleksanian, 36, nearly died twice in less than one year.

Mom suffers near-fatal stroke just hours after giving birth
Christina Aleksanian
April 22, 2024, 8:23 PM

A mom-of-three in California is speaking out after surviving two near-death experiences in a span of six weeks.

Christina Aleksanian, 36, of Granada Hills, was recovering in the hospital after giving birth to her third child, a daughter named Stephanie, when she said she felt her hand start to go numb.

Aleksanian said she thought she was getting a migraine, but as she was talking to her daughter's pediatrician, who happened to be in the room at the moment, she became unresponsive.

"My pediatrician came in and was trying to talk to me and I don’t remember after that," Aleksanian told "Good Morning America." "My husband describes me as laying there with a very blank face."

Aleksanian's husband, Gary Galfayan, told "GMA" that just hours after he watched his wife deliver their healthy child on May 23, 2023, he saw her being rushed away for lifesaving treatment.

"I heard, ‘Code blue, code blue, stroke,’ and I remember doctors just coming in," Galfayan said.

Christina Aleksanian is pictured with her third daughter, whom she gave birth to on May 23, 2023.
Christina Aleksanian

Aleksanian was rushed into an operating room, where doctors performed a cerebral angiogram to check the blood vessels in her brain. She then underwent an emergency thrombectomy to remove a blood clot from her brain, according to Dr. Onkar Marwah, the interventional cardiologist who led Aleksanian's care at Dignity Health - Glendale Memorial Hospital and Health Center.

"This was quite immediate action that was taken to save her brain and save her life," Marwah told "GMA." We reestablished blood flow to that part of the brain so the brain could start recovering."

Doctors later determined that Aleksanian suffered a stroke due to a patent foramen ovale, or PFO, a congenital heart defect she was unaware she had.

In Aleksanian's case, the hole between the left and right atria in her heart, which typically closes shortly after birth, did not close naturally, leaving her with PFO, according to Marwah. When a blood clot formed in her body amid childbirth, it moved through the hole, bypassing her lungs and causing a stroke.

Marwah described what happened to Aleksanian as very rare, noting that most people with PFO are unaware they have the condition and that most women with PFOs go through pregnancy and delivery normally, as Aleksanian did with her two previous pregnancies.

He pointed out, though, that pregnancy does increase the risk of stroke, so women should be aware of the signs and symptoms. Signs of a stroke include sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm or leg, sudden confusion or difficulty speaking, sudden vision changes, loss of balance or coordination and a sudden severe headache with no known cause, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC uses the acronym F.A.S.T. to remind people of what to do if a stroke is suspected -- Check if one side of the Face drops, ask the person to raise both Arms and check if one drifts downward, check if Speech is slurred or strange and if you see any of the signs, call 911 right away to not waste Time.

"The risk [of stroke] increases at the third trimester of pregnancy and the postpartum time after delivery," Marwah said. "And when a stroke happens, the most important thing is to recognize it early and get to a stroke center ASAP, so call 911, call an ambulance to get there immediately."

Christina Aleksanian is pictured during her pregnancy with her third child.
Christina Aleksanian

Marwah said in Aleksanian's case, had the pediatrician not been in the room with her and noticed her stroke symptoms, she may not have survived.

Galfayan said doctors told him his wife was a "ticking time bomb" as they rushed her off for treatment to save her life.

In the days after Aleksanian's stroke, Galfayan rushed back and forth between her hospital room and his newborn daughter, who had to be transferred to the neo-natal intensive care unit, NICU, while Aleksanian recovered.

"I would go by the baby, and my mind is downstairs [with my wife]," Galfayan recalled. "I don’t know how we came out alive, but we did."

Aleksanian survived the stroke with no lasting complications, but spent several days in the intensive care unit before she was able to be reunited with her newborn daughter, Stephanie.

"That 10 to 15 minutes [holding Stephanie] meant the world to me," Aleksanian said. "When I saw her, I was like, 'Okay, I have to get better. I have to do everything I possibly can, all for her.'"

Around one week after suffering the stroke, Aleksanian was discharged from the hospital, and was reunited with Stephanie and her older two daughters, ages 8 and 5, at home.

Christina Aleksanian is pictured with her husband Gary Galfayan and their three daughters.
Christina Aleksanian

She returned to the hospital in mid-June to undergo a second procedure, known as a PFO closure, to close the hole in her heart.

While recovering from that procedure, Aleksanian's life changed again when she and her family were in a multi-vehicle crash that sent them to the hospital once again.

Aleksanian, Galfayan and their three children were driving in between doctors' appointments for Aleksanian and Stephanie on June 28, when a car careened off the highway and struck their car. Los Angeles ABC station KABC-TV reported at the time that the crash injured six people, including one person who had to be extricated from the car.

"I just remember waking up to [Galfayan] screaming my name, 'Chris, wake up,'" Aleksanian said. "I get up ... and I'm just profusely bleeding."

Aleksanian and her family members were transported by ambulance to a local hospital, but all survived with no major injuries, including Stephanie, who was just 1-month-old at the time.

Christina Aleksanian is pictured with her three daughters.
Christina Aleksanian

Now, as Aleksanian and her family prepare to celebrate Stephanie's first birthday, she said it feels like her own second birthday, jokingly describing herself as a cat who has used two of her lives in the past year. Both Aleksanian and Galfayan added that they are thankful for the "guardian angel" they feel has kept their family safe.

"It's incredible what we went through and that we're out and we're able to share our story," Aleksanian said. "I tell the story. I've lived the story. But, emotionally, I have a hard time accepting the story."