Stroke, Arteriovenous Malformation
The horizon looked “amazing, beautiful and bright” for 17-year-old Michael Button in the fall of his senior year of high school according to his mom, Honie Jo Hendrix.
Thanksgiving would never look the same for the Hendrix family after one fateful Thursday morning in November 2020. Michael did not experience any preceding symptoms. He played basketball with friends, went to work, and spent time with his family the day that he had the stroke. In a split second, everything changed.
Michael walked into his parents’ room and said his left arm felt numb. They asked him if he was lying on it the wrong way or if he’d had enough electrolytes that day. Never did they expect what would happen next. His numbness quickly escalated down his side and leg, and he stumbled as he was walking.
Once they realized these symptoms were anything but normal, Honie Jo and her husband, Josh Hendrix, rushed Michael to Shelby Baptist Medical Center in Alabaster. Michael was barely talking when they arrived at the hospital, and the last thing Honie Jo recalls hearing him say is that his head hurt. They quickly learned from the medical team that Michael was having a stroke.
“I couldn’t comprehend or accept that my 17-year-old son—a teenager who was happy, healthy, athletic and a senior in high school—could have a stroke,” Honie Jo said.
Shelby Baptist Medical Center transferred Michael by ambulance to Children’s of Alabama. The team at Children’s put him in an induced coma after identifying the bleed in his brain. Children’s informed Honie Jo and Josh that Michael had suffered a hemorrhagic stroke due to an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) that had ruptured.
Fortunately, the rupture in his brain stopped bleeding on its own so they didn’t have to surgically stop the bleeding. According to Michael’s doctors, this more than likely would have killed him. To reduce swelling, surgeons twice had to drain fluid from Michael’s brain and performed another procedure that involved removing part of his skull. Michael suffered an abundance of complications, including kidney failure caused by one of the drugs, propofol, that was administered to save his life and keep him in a coma. He had to go on dialysis, which complicated his medical condition because of the shift in pressures the machine caused. Children's doctors located and flew in a special filter for the dialysis machine in hopes that it would clean Michael’s blood more efficiently. Due to the size and location of Michael’s AVM, it was inoperable. His medical team used radiation therapy to try to shrink the AVM.
“Our family was feeling shocked—there was no reason for this to happen to Michael,” Honie Jo said. “At least we had an answer to why his brain was bleeding and that it wasn’t anything that we would have known or done differently to prevent it.”
Michael spent three months in the hospital at Children’s including one month in the induced coma. He did inpatient rehabilitation for five weeks—receiving speech, physical and occupational therapy.
“Therapy was long and grueling, but the therapists at Children’s are lifesavers,” Honie Jo said. “They took over and loved him. They are amazing people.”
Michael didn’t let his unexpected stroke change his infectious personality or humor. He kept his nurses and therapists laughing to get through the hard moments.
Michael still does occupational therapy at Children’s and physical therapy on his own at home, and he continues to make many strides. Now, Michael is able to sit up on his own, get up and go to the bathroom, walk around the house, and he especially loves to make his own pizza.
“He has been a dedicated kid his whole life,” Honie Jo said. “He doesn’t argue or complain about his condition. He believes that the only way you get better is by working at it.”
While Honie Jo said it was challenging to stay faithful through this tribulation, her family and community made the burden easier to bear. During their time staying at the hospital, Honie Jo was always there to be with Michael while Josh stayed home to work and take care of Michael’s little sister, Alivia Button. Every sound on the machine threatened to send them into a spiral of fear, but compassion and love from others helped them feel supported during this time. Their friends and community put a meal train together, collected donations and coordinated a welcome home parade when Michael came home.
Michael was released from Children’s on February 26, 2021, three months after his stroke. He was unable to walk, sit up in bed, use his left arm, or eat and drink on his own. All of Michael’s nutrition, fluid and medication was delivered to him by a G-Tube placed in his stomach.
One of Michael’s friends had a bracelet that said, “God is bigger.” Michael’s friends made many of them and passed out the bracelets at school so his peers could be in prayer with him and show their support.
Michael’s goal was to walk across the stage at his high school graduation, and he did just that. In May 2021, he graduated from high school on time and with all his friends. As his best friend assisted him with a gait trainer, he walked across the stage while receiving a standing ovation from the village of people who supported him through his recovery journey.
Alivia competes in pageants to raise money for the AVM Foundation. Michael’s family is passionate about increasing awareness of this condition, ways to prevent it and less invasive ways to treat it.
During Thanksgiving, families take time to recognize the blessings in their lives. As Thanksgiving approached this year, Michael’s family felt grateful for his life and the miracle he represents every day. While their lives turned upside down on Thanksgiving of 2020, they were beyond grateful that Thanksgiving 2023 marked three years since Michael beat the odds.
“Michael is a miracle,” Honie Jo said. “He could have been angry about everything that has happened to him, but he has not allowed it to change him.” He hasn’t allowed the stroke to interfere with his desire to attend college. Now 20 years old, he’s enrolled in online classes at Jefferson State. He has completed three semesters, and he hopes to eventually be a full-time student on campus. Michael walks effectively and safely with a walking stick. He showers, tends to his personal needs, and no longer has a G-Tube. Though he sometimes needs assistance and supervision, he continues to fight every day to improve, and he remains an inspiration to many people around him.