A community of support and love has formed on campus and around the country in response to the news that Professor Astrid Henry, Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies (GWSS), suffered a major stroke. On Tuesday, March 10, Henry was airlifted to the University of Iowa emergency room and underwent surgery to reopen her carotid artery in order to restore blood flow to her brain. She is now in the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC), and has impressed her doctors and loved ones with her incredible dedication to recovery. Henry has a Caring Bridge site set up for updates and for people to leave comments. The link is provided at the end of this article.
Although Henry’s status is steadily improving at RIC, there was a period of uncertainties and worry for not only those close to her, but the greater Grinnell community as well.
“I was very, very nervous because I knew the gravity of the situation but I had no idea what would happen,” said Henry’s partner, Professor David Harrison, French.
“It’s terrifying. It’s heartbreaking. She’s young, she’s brilliant, she’s lovely. She’s just a good person and I miss having her around,” said Professor Carolyn Lewis, History, who has been helping to take over Henry’s classes since the incident.
Now in RIC, Henry has stunned doctors, family and friends with her fortitude and perseverance.
“Since arriving [at RIC] she has made remarkable gains. It’s night and day from when she emerged from the surgery and how she is now,” Harrison said. “When she arrived at RIC, her speech was limited, she had no movement on the right side of her body, and now she is beginning to walk and move the right side of her body. Her speech has increased and her cognition and understanding of what’s going on has increased dramatically.”
This progress has impressed but not surprised Harrison and Henry’s colleagues, who commented on her omnipresent work ethic and dedication.
“She shows a remarkably positive attitude, fortitude, a tremendous optimism and spirit. I think that as much as her age and her general health are contributing to her recovery, her personality is contributing to her recovery. That really cannot be underestimated. Her own will and desire to increase her strength is helping her,” Harrison said.
Professor Lakesia Johnson, Chair of Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies, jumped into action as soon as she found out about Henry’s incident and knew that she wouldn’t be coming back after spring break. Along with many other faculty members, they began the difficult task of taking over Henry’s classes.
“We’ve never experienced anything like this before, so we definitely feel like we are inventing the wheel. It’s been a difficult process because we want to keep the students’ best interest foremost in our minds, we want to be true to how Astrid would teach her classes, we’re all teaching our own classes, and we’re so sad,” Lewis said.
The network of support and the community of love have been evident, not only in relation to Henry’s recovery, but the classes and coursework she is not able to complete. Professor Javier Samper Vendrell, History, has taken over Henry’s LGBTQ studies class. Several faculty members, including Professors Karla Erickson, Sociology, Jennifer Dobe, Philosophy, and Johanna Meehan, Philosophy, have been teaching the GWSS senior seminar.
Concerned students have had card-signings, and recently had a zine-making night because they remembered Henry’s love for the feminist art form. Henry’s colleagues and former students from all over the country have posted on Caring Bridge and sent touching messages. These expressions of love and hope have been received with immense gratitude.
“I wouldn’t say it’s been unbelievable, because I believe in the spirit of the Grinnell community, but it’s nonetheless been stupendous, the amount of concern, support, care, the outpouring of expressions of hope and wanting to help us has been incredibly moving and I am so grateful to everyone,” Harrison said.
“I have been awestruck by the community that has been made visible,” Lewis said. “This has been such a difficult semester with issues of racism, sexism and Title IX, and there’s been so much pain this semester. On one hand, Astrid’s stroke has been as bad as it can now get, and on the other hand, what has emerged out of it has been a reminder that this really is a tight-knit community and we really do care for each other.”
As of today, Henry will remain at RIC for at least several more weeks. She is expected to continue to make gains, and the next step in rehabilitation is being discussed. In the meantime, Henry’s friends, colleagues, students and peers will continue to show support and come together around her strength and continued recovery.
“We had our faculty dance party, something that I’m not sure if students know. Astrid and David are regular hosts of faculty dance parties, and so last Friday, a lot of us got together on the amphitheater and danced to Madonna’s ‘Express Yourself’ and recorded it,” Lewis said. “We hope she’s seen it and knows that we love her so much and are willing to act like complete idiots.”
Updates on Henry’s status and support messages for her can be found at http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/astridhenry.