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When Life Gives You Strokes

Written By: Ahrein Bennett


While mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, I came across a post that said, “Life is the worst teacher, it gives you the test then teaches you the lesson” and in 2012 life wanted to teach me and my family about strokes through the experience of my father.

The American Stroke Association (ASA) states that a stroke occurs when parts of the brain cannot get the proper amount of blood and oxygen it needs, so the brain cells die. This occurs because a blood vessel that carries oxygen (and nutrients) to the brain is either clogged or bursts.


My father’s stroke journey began with a transient ischemic attack (TIA). TIA, also known as a mini-stroke, is a “temporary blockage of blood flow to the brain” according to the ASA. While a TIA does not cause permanent damage, it is typically a warning sign that a stroke may follow. Surely enough, my father had multiple Ischemic strokes. This type of stroke happens when a blood vessel is clogged by either plaque (fatty substances) or a blood clot in comparison to a hemorrhagic which occurs when the blood vessel ruptures.


Signs of a Stroke

In retrospect, all the signs were there. On the day that my father was admitted to the hospital, I witnessed him drop his drink in front of the stairs. While that may seem insignificant, what I recall so vividly was that he was visibly frustrated as if this wasn’t the first time that day he had done that. Furthermore, weeks prior he was continually having difficulty with his speech. However, at that time we did not know that speech difficulty and arm weakness or loss of balance were signs of a stroke.


If you believe that you or someone you know may be having a stroke, remember to BE FAST because every minute counts.


Figure 1: Signs of a stroke. Courtesy of Mercy Health.


 

Risk Factors

After talking to our doctor, my mother drove my father to the emergency room and he was immediately admitted to the hospital. Hospital staff were in complete shock to find his blood pressure well above 200/100. A normal blood pressure is 120/80. Health conditions like high blood pressure are risk factors for a stroke. The CDC mentions additional preexisting health conditions like high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity and lifestyle behaviors such as eating a diet high in fat as risk factors. There are other risk factors that we don’t easily have control over like age, sex, and race or ethnicity that may. However, there are things you can do to prevent a stroke. According to the ASA, 80% of strokes are preventable yet it is the 5th leading cause of death and leading cause of disability in the U.S.


Effects of a Stroke

For my father, who experienced more than 6 strokes on the left side of his brain, paralysis on the right side of his body has been his outcome. This occurred due to one side of the brain controlling the opposite side of the body. Speech, vision, memory loss, and changes to emotions and behavior are other common physical side effects of a stroke. Early treatment and rehabilitation may reduce some of these side effects.


While we took a brief look into my father’s stroke journey, this may not be the experience of others as the brain is very complex and experiences may differ based on the individual and the type, severity, and location of the stroke.

 

About Author:

Arhein Bennett, MPH, CPH, CHES


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