Keala Settle brilliantly performed "This Is Me" from The Greatest Showman at the Oscars earlier this year. But just a week before that March performance, Settle had a stroke and was ultimately diagnosed with Moyamoya disease, a rare condition caused by blocked arteries at the base of the brain.
In a new interview with People, Settle explained what it felt like to have that stroke and how it changed her perspective on her life.
Settle felt particularly run down in the weeks leading up to her performance, she said in the interview.
“I had gotten food poisoning in Tokyo, I was fighting a cold. I barely had anything left to give," she says. And when she started rehearsals for her Academy Awards performance in late February, she felt her stress levels only increased—to the point that she broke down in tears on set.
She also felt the right side of her body go numb and a shooting pain in her skull. “It was like someone cracked an egg on the top of my head and then drew a line on my body, turning one half off,” she said. “My body started drooping immediately. I tried to put my hands up to my face, but I could only move my left arm. I couldn’t talk because part of my tongue was immobile. I tried to stand, but there was nothing.”
Although Settle said she panicked and couldn't say much, she was able to say the word "help."
She eventually regained her abilities about 20 minutes later, and medical testing revealed that she had experienced a transient ischemic attack (TIA), also sometimes called a mini stroke. As SELF wrote previously, a TIA produces symptoms that are essentially the same as other types of strokes, but they don't cause lasting damage.
Brain scans revealed the cause of her TIA was Moyamoya disease, a condition in which arteries at the basal ganglia (an area at the base of the brain) are blocked.
In an attempt to compensate for that loss of blood flow, the body creates a bundle of tiny blood vessels, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) explains. (Moyamoya is Japanese for "puff of smoke," a reference to the shape of that bundle of blood vessels.) In Settle's case, those blood vessels had dried out and snapped, depriving part of her brain of blood and oxygen and causing a TIA.
Treatment for Moyamoya disease is aimed at managing the effects of strokes patients may have experienced (and any other symptoms associated with reduced blood flow) and reducing their risk for future strokes, the Mayo Clinic explains. That might include medication (such as blood thinners, anti-seizure medications, or calcium channel blockers that can reduce some of the symptoms of Moyamoya). But without surgery, the NINDS says patients are likely to experience multiple strokes and overall mental decline. So, surgery that either restores blood flow by bypassing the arteries or opening blood vessels that have narrowed is usually recommended.
In Settle's case, her doctors instructed her to take anti-seizure medication and children's aspirin and to stay hydrated in order to facilitate her blood flow. And in April she underwent surgery to restore blood flow to the affected part of her brain, followed by physical and cognitive therapy.
Although she's obviously endured her share of challenges, Settle also realized how dealing with her condition positively changed her outlook on life. "The way that I look at the world is so completely different," she said. "I’m more at peace than I’ve ever been; I can find the joy in things I never could. This truly gave me another lease on life."