Today is World Stroke Day. Last year, October 29th passed me by just like any other day. But not this year. This year, I pause. I reflect. I advocate. Why? It’s because of the stroke I never had.
Ten months ago—almost to the day—my life changed forever. It was December 30, 2014. I have a headache and I am exhausted from Christmas shopping, holiday parties and family gatherings. I am in a meeting with a colleague and begin slurring my words. I don’t know what is happening as I am mixing and matching syllables that don’t belong together. I’m not making sense, but then suddenly my speech returns to normal.
I should have known that something was wrong because two days earlier, I had the worst headache of my life. After the meeting, I consulted Dr. Google and talked to some of my colleagues and decided that my speech issue is the combination of a migration and stress.
But over of the course of the next week and a half, things weren’t getting better. After two trips to urgent care and a headache that won’t leave me alone, I finally see a neurologist. He thinks I have a migraine, but believes in “leaving no stone unturned,” so he sends me for a MRI.
Several hours after the MRI, my cell phone rings. I see the doctor’s name on the screen and I know this isn’t good news. The doctor tells me to go to the ER immediately because I am going to have a stroke and that doctors are waiting for me in the emergency room.
At the hospital, the neurologists tell me that my left carotid artery is 90% blocked — that is one of the main highways that deliver blood between my heart and brain. The doctors said I was lucky to be alive and not have any disabilities.
This made no sense to me. I eat healthy. I exercise. I have low cholesterol and low blood pressure. But that doesn’t matter. I just happened to be one in 100,000 people who have a spontaneous carotid artery dissection, meaning that it occurred without trauma to the head or neck.
While I didn’t have a stroke during the meeting, I did have a transient ischemic attack. This is commonly referred to as a TIA or mini-stroke. The difference between a stroke and TIA is that a TIA occurs when the blockage either dissolves itself or moves, so that the blood supply restores itself and the person feels normal again. The severe headache and slurred speech were warning signs that a stroke was coming.
I was lucky. A stroke could have happened any time—and I missed the signs that something was going on. That’s why it’s important to learn the warning signs of stroke. If I had known the warning signs of stroke, I wouldn’t have waited for help.
The American Stroke Association wants everyone to learn the stroke symptoms by learning the simple acronym FAST.
T—Time to Call 9-1-1
I had a hard time dealing with what happened to me. I felt alone and that nobody – even friends and close family – truly understood what I was going through physically and emotionally.
But I’m not alone. In fact someone in the U.S. suffers a stroke every 40 seconds and about 800,000 people suffer a stroke each year.
My artery will never fully heal and I have a slight chance of this happening again. There are some things that I loved to do that I can no longer include in my life, but that is okay because am alive and here to enjoy everything I can do.
I’m taking charge of my health—still exercising and making healthy food choices, but also reducing stress levels and managing daily life in a healthy way. I’ve connected with other survivors, sharing my experiencing and bonding in a way that only survivors can.
I urge you to learn FAST and about strokes.
And it’s beatable.
Visit www.strokeassociation.org for more.