Stroke Under 40

Guest post by Maureen Faille

Screen Shot 2014 12 23 at 11.07.13 AM Stroke Under 40 Photo

For as long as I can remember, I always dealt with headaches and migraines.  Cold towels, dark rooms, warm baths and trips to the doctor’s office and emergency room became second nature to me. At one doctor’s visit, I found out that I have an irregular heartbeat also known as atrial fibrillation. I didn’t give it much thought. So when I had yet another migraine episode, I didn’t know I was actually having a stroke in my mid-thirties.

Looking back, I now know there were other signs I ignored during that particular episode. My heart was beating fast, my speech became slurred and I became confused by my surroundings. I felt different, too. My body felt weaker, yet heavy, almost like I was covered in cement. I tried to regain control, but my body was not doing the things my brain was telling it to do. I felt as though I was screaming on the inside, but no one could hear me.

This trip to the emergency room wasn’t the quick check-up, test and release. This time, it was a 34-day stay. Yes, to my surprise, I was having a stroke. When I arrived at the emergency room, I kept hearing the word over and over again…stroke, stroke, stroke. I thought they had my chart confused with someone else. This can’t be me they are talking about, I’m too young. But it was. The doctors explained the stroke signs to my family and said I should have come into the hospital right away.  The doctors also explained the significance of being aware of my heart rate and AFib episodes since living with AFib put me at high risk for having a stroke.

A recent survey by the Heart Rhythm Society and National Stroke Association in collaboration with Boehringer Ingelheim show that nearly three in four stroke survivors (73 percent) surveyed say that experiencing a stroke was worse than they could have imagined, and many survivors and caregivers have had to give up jobs, activities or hobbies that brought them joy.

For me, my recovery was long and included multiple surgeries and setbacks, but I never gave up the fight. I wanted to be strong for everyone around me and prove to the people who said I wouldn’t be able to do something that I could and I would. I set both short-term and long-term goals for myself with the only expectation that I would never allow myself to say I can’t do something. My mindset was that it may take me longer and I may not be able to do it like I used to, but I will accomplish whatever goals I set.

I’m telling my story and working with organizations like the National Stroke Association and Heart Rhythm Society to help others recognize that a headache or fast heart beat could be something serious. Talking with your doctor about any unordinary sign or symptom is important no matter how old you are. Today, I pay attention to the abnormalities of my “normal” and I speak up until I am heard.

For more information about Atrial Fibrillation, read the Vitals Patient Guide.