EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — I never imagined this would be my story. No one could have ever prepared me for that day.
Oct. 8, 2019. 11:30 a.m.
They were the obvious signs: Loss of vision, balance and speech, shaky arms and legs which eventually went numb, and facial drooping. My husband called 911 within minutes.
Within an hour, I was diagnosed with an acute ischemic stroke, meaning a blood clot had lodged into an artery in my brain, cutting off the oxygen supply to a portion of the right side of my brain.
After a few minutes, blood was able to push past the clot.
At Norwood Hospital, we were offered TPA (tissue plasminogen activator), the only FDA-approved treatment for ischemic stroke. We turned it down due to the risk of a brain bleed associated with the medication, which was described to us as the most potent blood thinner on the market.
Hours later, I was transferred to the neuro-ICU at Boston Medical Center. I spent a week in the hospital and six more weeks at home recovering. During that time, I experienced severe headaches, constant exhaustion, and fear something like this would happen again.
Luckily, I had a strong team surrounding me: family, friends, and top-notch care offered at both Norwood Hospital and Boston Medical Center.
At Norwood, I was cared for by Dr. Michael Regan, who was the one to initially diagnose me with a stroke.
Dr. Hugo Aparicio at Boston Medical is the neurologist I have worked with throughout this entire process. As he points out, research suggests stroke incidence is on the rise in younger people.
“I think that’s a misconception that stroke only happens to older folks,” he said. “With public health campaigns and public health education about this, it’s really important to realize that stroke strikes anybody — whether you’re male or female, no matter what your age is, no matter what your other underlying risk factors are.”
In the 2016 Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers found between 2000 and 2010, hospitalizations for ischemic stroke — the most common type — dropped nearly 20 percent overall, but among people ages 25 to 44, there was a sharp 44 percent increase in the hospitalization rate.
“There is now a large amount of evidence that ischemic stroke incidence is on the rise in young adults,” the journal said.
The journal suggests there are several reasons for this trend:
- The increased use of MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) could be leading to better stroke diagnosis. However, the journal points out, “if the observed change was exclusively related to better capture and diagnosis of stroke, there is no reason to think that the increasing incidence or hospitalization rates of stroke would only be observed in young people.”
- A rise in the prevalence of type 2 diabetes and obesity. The journal also cites “cigarette smoking and alcohol abuse are frequent in young people and have tended to increase over time.”
- A rise in the use of illicit drugs among stroke patients between 1993 and 2005.
Web Extra: Caroline and Travis’s Story (text continues below video)
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in five women in the United States will have a stroke in her lifetime. Nearly 60 percent of stroke deaths are in women, and stroke kills twice as many women as breast cancer. Stroke is the third leading cause of death for women, yet most women do not know their risk of having a stroke.
To this day, we live without a definite answer as to what caused my stroke. Dr. Aparicio has several suspicions but he is still looking into the exact cause.
As the American Heart Association Journal suggests, the cause of ischemic stroke remains undetermined in approximately a third of young patients.
Are you or is someone you know a young stroke survivor and want to share your story? Email Caroline: email@example.com
Your Stories: Other Young Stroke Survivors
Alissa Travers of Warren was 21 when she had a stroke. She writes, “It was April 2013, and I had been dating my now-husband for about 6 months. We went out to dinner and he brought me home. I was sitting on my couch watching TV when suddenly I didn’t understand what they were saying on the news. My whole left side went pins and needles and I got cold sweats. I actually drove myself a block down to the hospital and was admitted for four days. Day by day, I regained function in my left arm. Today, I’m followed by hematology and I’ve made a complete recovery.”
Becca Nordeste of Fall River was 26 when she had a stroke. Her husband writes, “Upon arriving home, I opened the front door to see Becca lying face down completely motionless. When I rolled her to one side, I saw that the left side of her face was hysterically crying while the right was completely motionless. I called 911 and she was brought to the emergency room. Roughly four hours after the first signs of her stroke, Becca finally underwent the procedure to extract the clot. Unfortunately, the doctor was unable to do so, which resulted in Becca having to weather the storm of a full-strength stroke.”
Becca was diagnosed with global aphasia and apraxia as a consequence of the stroke. Although she is still improving with her speech, reading, and writing, she has regained full motion and strength in both her right arm and leg.
Laurel Fontaine of North Attleboro was 11 when she had a massive stroke. She was celebrating Memorial Day weekend with her family when her head started to ache. She collapsed, her mom called 911, and a medical helicopter landed in the park to fly her to the hospital. The stroke had destroyed most of the left side of her brain. She spent 10 days in a coma, as doctors told her parents if she were to survive, she may not be able to walk or talk again.
But, Laurel was determined to defy the odds. She now works for the North Attleboro YMCA. She writes, “I want to give others hope so they understand with hard work and a positive attitude, things can get better.”
Tina Pedersen of Lincoln is 47 years old. Her first stroke was in 2014. It took away the use of her legs, leaving her paralyzed. Then, in September 2019, she suffered another stroke.
She writes, “Hard work, determination, and positive thinking truly make a difference in recovery.”
Grace Mota of Providence is 47 years old and had a minor stroke in February 2020.
Her family said she was driving to work when it happened, and she is now at home recovering.