Melbourne girl Tiana Ekpanyaskun was just 10 years old when she suffered her third, and most devastating, stroke.
She had to re-learn how to eat, drink and even hold her head up again — but when she began to play the piano and violin, her parents said it was hard to believe she’d ever had a stroke at all.
WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: Tiana plays the violin after her third stroke.
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Tiana, now 11, told 7NEWS.com.au: “When I play piano and violin, I forget about my worries.”
Her family discovered she had an arteriovenous malformation (AVM), a tangle of blood vessels that irregularly connects arteries and veins, several years ago.
It would cause two initial strokes over the next few years, but neither was particularly significant — doctors even thought the first one was a virus.
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“We didn’t actually know it was a stroke at the time,” Tiana’s dad Vincent told 7NEWS.com.au.
“We did take her to the hospital because we were worried that it might be (a stroke), but the doctors didn’t think her symptoms were bad enough at the time for them to do imaging.
“They actually thought it was a virus, gastro or something, because she was throwing up and quite out of it. But she could still move her arms and she was speaking properly.
“That went undiagnosed for a while, and then she had an MRI the next year, in February 2022 — that’s when they could tell that she’d had a bleed.”
But it was Tiana’s third and most recent stroke in June 2022 which Vincent said was really “horrible”.
Her AVM ruptured and temporarily paralysed the left side of her body. After an 11-hour surgery to remove the AVM, Tiana was feeling “very tired”.
“Tiana had lost all movement of her left-hand side and was initially unable to hold up her head, sit, drink or eat,” Vincent said.
“(She) was completely dependent on us and the nurses to assist her with everything she did.
“The first few days were horrible as we struggled to come to terms with what had happened.”
Tiana Ekpanyaskun, 11, had to re-learn the most basic functions after her third stroke. Now she’s using music to forget her worries. Credit: Supplied
But within two and a half months, Tiana received a standing ovation from staff as she walked herself out of the Royal Children’s Hospital.
She thanked the RCH in a fundraiser she created for the hospital, in which she wrote: “I want every child in hospital to have the best treatment possible.”
About 600 Australian children have a stroke each year, according to the Stroke Foundation.
Stroke Foundation CEO Dr Lisa Murphy said: “Stroke can happen to anyone, at any time. Even newborn babies have strokes.
“We’re so glad Tiana was able to receive the best possible care and was able to walk out of the hospital.
“We know the faster an adult or child with stroke gets to hospital and receives medical treatment, the better their chance of survival and a good recovery.”
Experts say the key is to think FAST:
Face – Check their face. Has their mouth drooped?
Arms – Can they lift both arms?
Speech – Is their speech slurred? Do they understand you?
Time – Time is critical. If you see any of these signs, call 000 straight away.
Joyously achieving a ‘distant goal’
A music therapy room filled with new and modified instruments at the hospital allowed Tiana to recapture her love of music, which had been fostered by her family since she was a toddler.
She started piano lessons from the age of two and, after several years learning the basics, began Skype lessons with her grandmother, who is a piano teacher back in Japan.
In grade two, she picked up the violin.
“When she had her big stroke last year she had to take a pretty long break from it, but then a little while after she left hospital she started going back to it,” Vincent said.
“We didn’t know if she would be able to pick up the violin at all in the future. It seemed like a very distant goal to think of.”
Tiana can now only use one finger at a time while playing the piano, but is excelling more each day. Credit: Supplied.
But with help from the Stroke Foundation and Melbourne Youth Orchestra’s Adaptive Music Bridging Program to apply creative thinking to an all-too-common problem, Tiana’s instrument was modified to enable her to play.
“They suggested that we could swap the strings around on the violin and have everything reversed,” Vincent said.
“She has trouble with her left side, so fingering the strings with her left hand is pretty difficult for her. So they thought we should use her right hand for fingering and get her left hand on the bow.
“They also made modifications to the bow to make it easier for her to hold.”
Tiana now does group lessons with other children, who she says help her to stay on track.
“Sometimes if I get lost, I get to listen to what they’re playing, and then I won’t get lost again,” she told 7NEWS.com.au.
They are currently preparing for an end-of-year recital, and Tiana is excited to bring the magic of music to the stage.
With a smile on her face, she summarised her journey in three words of sage advice to other children recovering from a stroke: “Don’t give up.”
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