Ignoring Stroke Symptoms Almost Killed Me
State: New Jersey
Congressional District: NJ11
Neurological Disease, Rare Disease
Issues and Challenges
Stacy has encountered: Access to Expert Providers, Mental Health Access, Rare / Underserved Disease, Surprise Billing, Invisible Illness, Medical Discrimination
Ignoring stroke symptoms almost killed me.
The day started like any other. As soon as I got off the subway, I dashed into my favorite Starbucks across the street from the office. I asked for a shot of espresso in my coffee hoping the extra dose of caffeine would take the edge off an agonizing headache that was brewing.
I had a busy day ahead of me, and I wasn’t going to let what eventually grew into the “worst headache of my life” keep me from crossing things off my to-do list. While I was determined to stay the course, I was struggling. My head was pounding. My stomach was upset. My vision was a little blurry. But I kept going.
• Emails sent. Check.
• Project completed. Check.
• Prepare for meeting with new boss. Check.
Next on the list: Meet with new boss. As I updated her on my projects, I lost my speech. My words were no longer words—they were coming out as garbled babble. It was almost like I was speaking another language.
Hearing myself, I paused, took a deep breath and started speaking again. For the first time since I was very young, I couldn’t string together a sentence. I took another pause, closed my eyes and took another deep breath. A few seconds later, my speech returned to normal.
The experience was surreal, and it left me shaken up. At the time, I rationalized the incident as a side effect of the bad headache and the stress from all of the work I had to do. So I discounted the setback, got back to business and charged ahead.
Over the course of the next 10 days, my headache got worse. After two trips to urgent care, I was diagnosed with a migraine and an ear infection. The headache persisted, so I finally went to a neurologist. After getting an MRI at the suggestion of a very cautious neurologist, I learned that the headache and my speaking problem a few days earlier were the result of a transient ischemic attack (TIA), also known as a mini-stroke. The cause? My left carotid artery, one of the main pathways delivering blood from my heart to brain, had dissected, creating a 90% blockage. During a carotid artery dissection, the interior walls collapse, obstructing proper blood flow. Slurred speech is a symptom of stroke, and I should have immediately gone to the hospital. Because I waited so long to get help, I am lucky that didn’t have a stroke that killed me or caused long-term health complications.
Unfortunately, my artery will never fully heal, and it remains 40% blocked. There are some things that I loved to do that I can no longer include in my life, but that’s okay because I’m alive and here to enjoy everything I can do.
I never thought stroke was something that could happen to me. Why? I’m a young woman, I eat healthy and I exercise five times a week. I also know my numbers, as doctors always compliment me on my low cholesterol and blood pressure.
While some people are at greater risk for stroke than others, stroke can happen to anyone, at any time. Too many people, including me, seek help long after they believe they’ve had a stroke. This mistake increases the odds of serious complications or death.
Knowing the symptoms of stroke isn’t complicated. In fact, there’s is an easy way to remember the most common symptoms of stroke. It’s called FAST. If you experience any one of these symptoms – facial droopiness, weakness or problems in an arm, slur your speech or have difficulty talking – don’t waste any time call 911. Also, if you ever have the “worst headache of your life” you should seek medical attention immediately.
My Motivation and Inspiration
I want people everywhere to know the warning signs of stroke and understand that stroke can happen to anyone at any time. Through my personal experience, I also learned that there is little information, resources or support for carotid artery dissection survivors and caregivers. That's why I founded My Stroke of Hope. I want to help improve the lives of people affected by carotid artery dissection through information, resources, research and advocacy. Also, I want one day for carotid artery dissection to be well understood by the medical community, so people get the correct diagnosis and timely treatment.