Child stroke survivor becomes Youth Heart Ambassador

Sydney, on the surface, is your typical 10-year-old Silverdale girl.

She loves the outdoors and running around with her dog but is also excited to see her friends at Naval Academy Elementary this year. She is also, as she will tell you, a proud fan of the computer game Roblox, and a great player at that.

She’s every bit as healthy as you would expect her to be, but her mom Tylandra Callands said her presence on this earth is an everlasting miracle. “She’s still here thanks to God obviously and her medical staff and medical team,” Callands said.

It was Sydney’s sister who first saw the signs—slurred speech and difficulty walking, among other things— that led the family to believe that she was having a stroke at age 3.

It’s believed that the early recognition of those signs, commonly known through the “BEFAST” acronym, likely saved her life. B stands for Balance, E is for Eyes, F for Face, A for Arms, S for Speech and T means Time is of the essence.

“When I tell people this story, it’s important to even know that, even if someone doesn’t look like it, you just never truly know,” Callands said. “That’s why it’s very, very important to know the signs.”

Those beliefs were confirmed at their local hospital, before Sydney was transferred to a more suitable one.

Despite catching those early signs, it was an uncertain time for the Callandses as they watched Sydney go from ready to celebrate her fourth birthday to becoming completely dependent on emergency care. That 3-year-old who could begin to read and write, talk and play, suddenly couldn’t do any of that and would have to learn all over again in rehab.

It was at that struggling point that Callands said her daughter displayed the determination and grit of someone much older. “I think she just wanted to come home, and that really drove her determination to learn how to do it. Even during rehab, she tried her best to push through. She had the attitude to want to walk.”

She celebrated her fourth birthday with the medical staff, and not too long after, would come home.

While too young to remember everything, Sydney said that it was her bravery and faith that got her through such a challenging time. “You just have to be brave, and I really believe that God can do anything,” she said.

Sydney is still fighting to come out completely on top. She has recovered for the most part but now writes with her opposite hand and still carries a small stutter. As she talked it was evident that she was using calming techniques to keep her voice flowing as smooth as possible.

“I used to go to this class where I learn how to help with my stutters, but now, all I have to do is just speak slowly enough for someone to understand me,” she said.

Even so, Sydney is set to use her experience to better the lives of others as she will serve as a volunteer national Youth Heart Ambassador for the American Heart Association. Throughout the 2023-24 school year, she will work with the association’s in-school programs along with the American Heart Challenge and Kids Heart Challenge to share her story while encouraging healthy living habits.

Sydney said she is ready to take this new challenge head on, using the same brave face that got her through her stroke.

Shahriar Heidary, president of the AHA board, said: “Sydney’s story is so inspiring, and it’s exciting to see one of our local youth share their voice and experience to help others live heart healthy.”

Valerie Koch, AHA’s regional senior marketing and communications director, added, “She’s truly inspiring and wants to raise awareness about unexplained stroke and support other survivors.”