Indiana State University Newsroom

Returning to Indiana State goal of theater student battling medical recovery

January 28, 2015

For some students, school is simply a necessary objective to cross off one's list on the way to a career. For theater major Meredith Wettersten, returning to Indiana State University this semester was the motivation she needed to battle through months of grueling rehabilitation after being partially paralyzed by a stroke.

Her journey back to friends and classes began last summer when she underwent cutting-edge brain surgery aimed at stopping the seizures Meredith, a sophomore from Carmel, had endured most of her life.

"Meredith was a happy, healthy fourth-grader when she started having seizures," said Meredith's mother, Kim. "She had participated in gymnastics, soccer, softball, basketball, dance, and she loved to swim, mostly for fun, but she swam on a neighborhood team in the summers."

Local doctors immediately realized Meredith's case was unusual and referred her to specialists at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. The seizures -- all types and as many as 24 a month -- didn't impact Meredith's daily life, but doctors were concerned about the long-term affects.

"Between her local team of doctors and her Cleveland Clinic team of doctors, they tried everything over the years to stop Meredith's seizures," Kim said. "She was -- and still is -- on maximum doses of two anti-seizure medications, and she has endured numerous infusions of a high dose autoimmune drug."

Doctors also looked for a surgical solution, but the Wetterstens were told each year they could not pinpoint the exact location in the brain where the seizures were originating and even if they could, the surgery was just too risky.

Then, in the summer of 2013, a new neurosurgeon at the Cleveland Clinic evaluated Meredith to see if she was a candidate for an invasive procedure that would identify the area causing the seizures. During the procedure, doctors would implant electrodes in targeted areas of Meredith's brain, and then monitor her seizures to locate the exact source.

"Meredith was so excited to be leaving for Indiana State University in August of that summer that we decided to postpone the lengthy and invasive evaluation until after her first year of college," Kim said.

Meredith thrived during that first year as a Sycamore.

"It was a lot of fun. I wasn't really home sick at all. I met a group of four really close friends, and we did everything together," she said.

Meredith was able to take several classes in her major and even worked with the stage crew and was assistant stage manager for productions.

"I've always been passionate about theater," she said. "I'm a really shy person, so I like becoming someone else on stage."

As the academic year wrapped up, Meredith didn't think twice about her impending brain surgery.

"I wasn't really worried about the surgery at all, because they had said you'll have the surgery and go back to school in the fall," she said. "So, I was like, ‘OK. Let's do this.'"

Prior to the surgery, Meredith spent three weeks in the hospital for a battery of tests, including the invasive test that might offer a miracle.

"After the evaluation, Meredith's case was presented to a team of doctors and medical staff. We were told there was standing-room only with about 50 people in the room," Kim said. "It was unanimously determined that they could safely remove the problem area and that she would be back at ISU by the time school started in August. She would not agree to the surgery otherwise. Getting back to school was her priority."

The surgery on July 8 was a success, and doctors were able to remove a portion of her insular cortex. Since then, Meredith has only had two seizures -- compared to the 170 she would have had during the same time prior to the surgery.

However, after she woke up from surgery, Meredith had total hemiparesis (or paralysis) on the entire left side of her body, her dominant side. It was determined she had suffered an ischemic stroke during the surgery.

"Even then, the doctors were like, ‘This will take just a couple of weeks to get over. You'll still be able to go back to school in the fall.' So I wasn't too concerned about it," Meredith said. "It was a bummer, but I think my mom was more upset than I was."

Indeed. Kim describes the events as a "nightmare."

"I'm a pretty optimistic person in general," Meredith said. "I was like, ‘I'll go to rehab and get walking.' I thought I'd be back in school by fall. They never really told us they thought it would be a long-term recovery."

But during a case evaluation with her team of doctors and rehabilitation team, they finally told her it would be a long road to recovery.

"They said, ‘There's no way you're going back in the fall.' I got really upset. It was the only time I got upset," Meredith said. "After having freedom for a year, I wanted that again."

In usual form, though, Meredith regained her sunny disposition and started taking recovery one day at a time.

"I just got over not going back to school and did my therapy," she said.

The months of therapy were filled with strides and setbacks.

"When I first started occupational therapy, it was really slow. My occupational therapist would try everything, and my arm just wouldn't move at all," Meredith said. "Once it started moving, there was more you could do with it. It was really amazing they could get me walking again and get my arm moving."

Meredith continues her occupational therapy exercises to improve her arm and hand movements.

"Her surgeon has told (us) that he believes she will regain function except for, perhaps fine motor skills, but with her determination and hard work, anything is possible," Kim said.

After a decade of specialized medical evaluation and treatment, Meredith is no stranger to hospitals. And she, in return, is no stranger to the doctors and nurses who treated her.

"The nurses would always comment about my smile -- I always had a smile on my face," she said. "I'm just naturally a happy person."

So much so, one doctor wanted to evaluate her for being too upbeat in the face of such medical challenges. He said she must be suppressing her true feelings.

"During her time at (Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana), Meredith was repeatedly asked the scale of one-10 questions -- with 10 being the worst -- about anger, sadness, frustration. For each question, each time, she said zero or one," Kim said. "The story here is about a medical miracle with both a good and a horrible outcome. But more importantly, it is about a young girl ... from 9 years old to 19 years old, who has endured every type of medical poking and prodding imaginable, who remains upbeat and who has done everything her doctors have asked her to do without complaint or a ‘woe is me' attitude."


Photo: -- Meredith Wettersten poses for a portrait in front of Indiana State University's New Theater.

Writer and media contact: Libby Roerig, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or