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.