Maine stroke survivors stress importance of knowing the warning signs and acting quickly

A stroke can happen to anyone at any point in their lifetime. May is American Stroke Month and the American Stroke Association wants you to know how to reduce your stroke risk and learn the signs everyone should know to spot a stroke F.A.S.T. 

Taryn Demuth

Taryn Demuth of Windham, a 37-year-old with a clean bill of health, suffered a stroke two weeks after giving birth to her second child. She had a very uncomplicated pregnancy, labor and delivery. Although she knew of some common postpartum complications, stroke was never mentioned, nor did it cross her mind. Initial symptoms included a cold tingling feeling and vertigo, which intensified through the night. “I could feel my entire left side tingling and gravity pulling me to the ground. I couldn’t lift myself up. I couldn’t move,” said Demuth. “My husband was by my side trying to understand what was happening. He was asking me a million questions and I remember being so frustrated because I just couldn’t answer.”  

Sue L’Africain

Similarly surprising, Sue L’Africain of Vinalhaven, an active, healthy 64-year-old suffered an ischemic stroke on her way to the gym. “I had been abnormally tired for about a week leading up to my stroke. I had recently returned from a trip to California and thought that maybe the travel and flights had taken a toll on me,” said L’Africain. “The fatigue and tiredness were my only symptoms, although at the time I did not know that these could be possible symptoms of a stroke.” 

Heart disease and stroke are leading causes of death in Maine and stroke is a leading disabler. Globally, about one in four adults over the age of 25 will have a stroke in their lifetime. Even so, most adults in the U.S. don’t know the F.A.S.T warning signs of a stroke, and that stroke is highly treatable if you call 911 as soon as you recognize the symptoms. 

Learn how to spot a stroke F.A.S.T.: 

  • Face Drooping– Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person’s smile uneven? 
  • Arm Weakness– Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward? 
  • Speech Difficulty– Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like “The sky is blue.” 
  • Time to Call 911– If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 911 and get to a hospital immediately. 

If someone is having a stroke, they must get medical attention right away. On average, 1.9 million brain cells die every minute that a stroke goes untreated. When brain cells die during a stroke, the abilities controlled by that area of the brain are lost. These abilities may include speech, movement, and memory. The way a stroke affects you depends on where the stroke occurs in the brain and how much of the brain is damaged. 

Demuth was diagnosed with a vertebral artery dissection, which caused a blood clot to form and led to her stroke. Vertebral artery dissections are often caused by severe head and neck trauma, but hers was determined to be postpartum related. She continued to have neck pain, in addition to challenges with postpartum anxiety and wondering if she would have another stroke. Four months later, a CT scan showed the artery to be fully healed.  

“Hearing so many stories that ended differently than mine — stories of people ignoring their bodies and symptoms and not understanding the severity until things got worse — makes me want to share my story as much as possible,” said Demuth. “Awareness is important because what happened to me can truly happen to anyone.” 

Nearly a year after her stroke, L’Africain is also working to balance being grateful for how much she has recovered while acknowledging the traumatic experience itself, and the changes in her body and mind since then. “Recovery from a medical emergency is not linear. There are ups and downs and sometimes more questions than answers. I need to be patient with myself and give myself love and support as I continue to heal,” said L’Africain. “I just turned 65 and am making a couple of important lifestyle changes to aid in my recovery. I have also set a big challenge for myself as I recently registered for a 10k trail run in September with an elevation gain of 1,600 feet! It’s an important step in taking back the power in my life, and also regaining belief in myself – physically, mentally and emotionally.” 

Approximately 800,000 people (equivalent to about half the population of Nebraska) in the United States have a stroke every year, but the large majority of strokes can be prevented. According to the Association, the best course of action is to understand controllable risk factors such as maintaining a healthy blood pressure level, eliminating smoking/vaping, increasing physical activity and maintaining a healthy diet to reduce the chance of stroke.

For more information and resources to help prevent stroke,