By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
SANBORNTON — "2011 was my year from hell," recalled Chryss LaRoche, who that summer twice escaped close scrapes with death in as many months but next month will celebrate her recovery by running a 5K at Walt Disney World at Orlando.
In the summer of 2011, LaRoche, a senior benefit technology consultant with Cigna, found herself, at 42, a single mother with two teenage children— a daughter, Allison, and son, Logan — a demanding job, and a 225-year-old home in need of a new furnace, oil tank and septic system. And that was just the beginning.
While coaching her son's soccer team, LaRoche watched as he and the goalie leapt to head a ball away from the goal mouth only to collide. Logan's left cheekbone and eye socket were shattered, leaving him with a steel plate in his face. On July 9, as Logan was recovering, LaRoche returned home from a birthday party and decided she would mow the lawn. She said that as she walked toward the house she was overcome by a flush— "a super blush" — that swept from her feet to her face and went into a seizure. Scout, the family dog, sounded the alarm and stayed with her. Logan came from the house and immediately called for an ambulance. She said that later he told her "I thought you were possessed by the devil."
LaRoche said she was taken to Concord Hospital then flown to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, unable even to speak her name, and that night underwent surgery for a brain aneurysm. She awoke the next morning to find a drain protruding from her head, wondering "Am I a unicorn?" Later she would learn that 60 percent of aneurysms are only diagnosed during an autopsy and her chance of surviving surgery was 10 percent.
During a week in the intensive care unit, LaRoche said "I was never alone. My parents and kids came every day." At the same time, she said that her supervisor at Cigna assured her children that their mother's job was secure. Meanwhile, her doctors began putting her through tests to determine the extent of what they called "deficits" she might have suffered. "They asked me to draw pictures," she said, "and I'm a terrible artist to begin with." Then she began suffering severe pain in her neck and slurring her speech. "I was on the verge of a stroke," she said. She underwent a second operation to relieve the pressure on her brain, this time with 1 percent chance of survival.
Altogether, LaRoche spent nearly a month in the hospital. But, within 24 hours of returning home, she began experiencing chest pains. "I think I'm having a heart attack," she told Logan, who again called for ambulance. Once more she was shuttled from Concord to Lebanon where she was treated for a blood clot in her lung, and after another week in the intensive care unit returned home, this time for good.
LaRoche, who has has been with Cigna for 27 years after beginning in the mail room to pay for degree in psychology at the University of New Hampshire, was eager to return to work, if only to assure herself she could perform to her accustomed standard. In the meantime, she said, "I got hooked on archery and decided to ask for two weeks off for deer season." In September, she returned to work. Offered a series of new assignments, she said I told them "I don't want a new job" then pointed to her shaved head and insisted "I just want to have bangs."
"It all seemed so surreal," LaRoche remarked. She said that for some time she did not express emotion. "I just didn't show joy or sorrow as I always had," she said. "The doctors suggested it was psychological. I thought of it as a defense mechanism." That changed when he children encouraged her to start dating and she met the father of a friend of her daughter. "We had family dates," she said. The dates became a relationship, mending another tear opened in 2011.
In June, when Cigna announced its annual Marathon Weekend, LaRoche said "I decided I'm going to put my name in the hat." She explained that the company holds a contest, requiring each entrant to wrote a short essay telling why they want to run the 5K. "That was a struggle for me," she laughed, confessing she is not one of few words. When Cigna's 40,000 employees read the entries and cast their votes, LaRoche was the winner.
On Jan. 5, LaRoche, who has moved to a new home and formed a new relationship, and her son will run together. "Crossing the finish line," she said, "will signify closure and a new year."
Chryss LaRoche will run the Disney 5K on Jan. 5, to celebrate her recovery from a near-fatal health issues. She is shown here wearing a hat, with her daughter, Allison, and son, Logan, with their dog, Scout. (Courtesy photo)