CHEYENNE, Wyo. — When skateboarding friends noticed that Stefani Perdue had wandered away July 26 from the Brimmer Park skatepark on Windmill Road in Cheyenne, they at first didn’t think much of it.
Perdue, 19, is described as shy and reserved by family and friends, someone whose departures from the skatepark were often quiet and nothing out of the ordinary. But on that day, something was very, very wrong with the local teenager.
Perdue’s mother, Michele Gutierrez, said that after her daughter left the skatepark that night, Perdue called her in a confused and disoriented state, saying that she didn’t know where she was. Gutierrez drove to the park and eventually found Perdue pacing around Brimmer Park, taking her to the emergency room out of worry.
There, Perdue’s condition began to worsen to the point that she couldn’t stand up. Blood tests revealed no drugs or alcohol in her system, so doctors eventually decided to perform a CT scan on Perdue’s brain.
The findings from the scan turned Perdue’s — and Gutierrez’s — world upside down. Perdue had bleeding in her brain and needed to be airlifted to Swedish Medical Center in suburban Denver for emergency surgery.
“I’m like, ‘What helicopter? Where are you guys taking her?'” Gutierrez said. “We all — my son, he and his wife, my husband and I and my mom — we all drove up that night. I mean, none of us slept.”
Possibilities for what had happened to her daughter began to race around Gutierrez’s head. Had she taken or consumed something that caused her to react abnormally? Skating friends around her that night said that she hadn’t. Had she suffered a heavy crash on her board and no one noticed? There was little evidence to support that idea.
The emergency surgery revealed the answer: Perdue had an arteriovenous malformation (or AVM) in her brain that suddenly ruptured, something that Gutierrez said that doctors told her was like a “ticking time bomb” in her daughter’s brain that was ready to explode. Only about 3,000 new AVMs are detected each year in the U.S., with severe ruptures having the potential to cause hemorrhaging, brain damage and even death.
Perdue ended up surviving her episode after surgery, but not unscathed. Gutierrez said that the rupture “wiped out” the left side of Perdue’s brain that controls functions like speech, reading and writing, setting her up for a long road to relearning skills that many take for granted.
“They gave her 48 hours, but we’re already here now, so she’s lasted longer than they ever thought she was going to,” Gutierrez said. “She’s learning now how to re-walk and she is learning how to speak again. She whispers a lot, but she’s getting words out. … She’ll have to learn how to do all that, and it’s been a nightmare.”
Though Gutierrez and Perdue unquestionably have — and will likely continue to — go through traumatic events as the teen recovers, they both quickly learned that they are far from alone in Perdue’s nursing back to health.
When Perdue’s skating friends heard what had happened to “Stef,” there was obvious shock and worry as they wondered whether or not they’d ever get to see her ride a skateboard again. Fellow skater Jenna Landry said that she especially had a bond with Perdue as the two made up a significant chunk of the few female skaters that frequent the park.
Perdue’s family started a GoFundMe to help pay for her medical expenses, and though many in Cheyenne’s skating community were happy to pitch in and help however they could, Landry in particular helped others put the wheels in motion for something a little more. And thus, Saturday’s “Shred 4 Stef” event — a friendly skateboarding competition and fundraiser — was born.
Skaters from Cheyenne and other localities like Laramie and Fort Collins, Colorado, tested out tricks and tried to win over crowds for a good cause, and all the skaters were there to support their recovering fellow shredder. Gutierrez said that she was humbled by the support and how many people cared about her daughter. Landry said it was an easy act of kindness to do for a friend and family in need.
“I had never seen girls at the skate park, so I automatically got really excited and started talking to her [and] became pretty good friends with her,” Landry said. “She just means a lot to me, honestly. Like as a person, she’s just a really genuinely good person. … People think she’s my little sister and I take full credit.
“On the way here, you’d see her at the school skateboarding, you see her in random parking lots, like she was always skating. … I wasn’t expecting too much of a turnout because I didn’t know from skateboarding, but I’m pretty happy with it.”
Perdue was moved after a stint at Swedish Medical Center to Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colorado, a clinic that specializes in brain injury rehabilitation for cases just like her own. She’s been there since Aug. 16 and has a tentative release date of Nov. 8, which would enable her to continue physical and speech therapy back in Cheyenne.
Gutierrez said that doctors have called her daughter their “miracle child” due to her rapid progress and quick learning, with it all building to massive points in her recovery. For instance, Gutierrez noted that Perdue is currently able to dress and clean herself up again.
Those who suffer AVM ruptures and survive can later lead normal, fulfilling lives, and if Perdue’s recovery continues on the track it’s on, it’s very possible that she can skate again some day. For now, however, it’s baby step after baby step for her and her family. Still, that doesn’t mean there isn’t going to be a bit of celebrating when Perdue finally comes home.
“She’ll be close to home and she’ll have her Starbucks here,” Gutierrez said. “Every time I come through Colorado, I stop off and get her a drink first and take it up to the hospital. … She’s going to love it and I’m going to love having her home. I told her when she gets home, [there’s] a big spaghetti dinner; that’s her favorite meal, so I’m excited.”
Perdue’s skating friends hope to see her shredding again soon too, and if and when that day comes, there’s going to be a lot of embracing. Both family and friends noted that Perdue doesn’t care much for attention, but after so long away, it may be near-impossible not to get emotional for her the first time she’s back at Brimmer Park.
They’ll be able to “Shred 4 Stef” once again soon — hopefully next time with Stef actively watching or participating.
“I’ll probably cry, I’m not going to lie,” Landry said when asked how she’ll react to the first time Perdue gets on a skateboard again. “She hates affection, but I’m probably going to like run at her and squeeze her and make her do all these tricks that we used to do together. It’s going to be awesome.”