Jo-Ann Weiner, EA, CFE
Open Your Heart Chair
J. L. Weiner and Associates, LLC
In September 2017, at the age of 21, Alex Leary was celebrating Labor Day at a friend’s barbecue, enjoying playing games and spending time with her childhood friends...
Suddenly, something was wrong. As she was walking to sit down and take a break, she tried to speak and the words came out as garbled nonsense. She tried to speak again and this time her words just slurred. Next, she felt the right side of her face start to droop. Pulling her friend aside, Alex started to panic. Something did not feel right. She sat down and the entire right side of her body was limp. She tried raising her right arm, but nothing happened.
Luckily, her friends did not hesitate and called 9-1-1 immediately. These were the classic signs of stroke. If you were to go down the checklist, Alex was exhibiting all the F.A.S.T. warning signs – Face drooping, Arm weakness, Slurred speech and now it was Time to call 9-1-1.
When the first responders arrived, they first believed Alex’s symptoms were alcohol related. As the officers were asking simple questions, like her name, address and how she was feeling, Alex couldn’t quite get the words out. They asked her to walk to the ambulance and she nearly collapsed as her right leg dragged lifelessly behind her.
Lying in the ambulance, the EMT tried to keep Alex calm on the way to the hospital. Unfortunately, stroke was still not their first guess as to what was causing Alex’s symptoms. When she finally arrived at the ER, doctors quickly recognized that Alex was experiencing a stroke – asking her to smile and seeing her facial droop; asking her to raise both arms and seeing that her right arm wouldn’t rise like her left; and asking her simple questions and getting slurred answers in return.
When Alex’s mom arrived at the hospital, she still had no idea what was happening. It wasn’t until Alex overheard a conversation between her mom and a doctor that she heard the word “stroke” for the first time. The doctors found that Alex had a tear in her carotid artery – the main artery that connects your heart to your brain. The tear caused a blot clot which traveled to her brain and caused the stroke.
The doctors administered tPA, a drug that breaks up the blood clot in the body, but it would take a few hours until they would know if the tPA dissolved the clot or if Alex would need surgery to physically remove the clot.
Within a few hours, Alex could begin to wiggle her toes, then move her leg. Her speech began to improve and lastly, she could move her right arm and hand. The tPA had worked because her friends had recognized the signs and called 9-1-1 immediately. This also means that Alex has minimal adverse effects from her stroke – while she can walk, talk and use her right hand still, she has some weakness with fine motor skills in her right hand and occasionally has difficulty finding her words or remembering things.
She now has exercises to strengthen her right hand, takes daily blood thinners, goes for regular check-ups with neurologists and does other therapies to stay strong. She still doesn’t know what caused her carotid artery dissection, which causes some fear that a stroke could happen again.
This fear is the hardest part of her entire situation. Like most people, Alex wonders how a stroke could happen to an otherwise healthy 21-year-old. According to the American Stroke Association, stroke can happen to anyone at any age. In fact, nearly 800,000 people suffer from stroke each year in the U.S. and it is the fourth leading cause of death in New Jersey.
The good news is 80 percent of stroke is preventable by taking simple steps to lead a healthy lifestyle, such as eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, managing blood pressure and not smoking.
To learn more about how you can prevent stroke and other cardiovascular diseases, help survivors like Alex and support research and education, join us at the Southern NJ Go Red for Women Luncheon on Friday, April 26, 2019 at the Mansion on Main Street in Voorhees, NJ.
By supporting Go Red, you inspire women to make healthy lifestyle changes, mobilize communities, and shape policies to save lives. When you attend a luncheon and get involved as a volunteer and supporter, you help to improve the health of women in your community. You make it possible for more women to receive the lifesaving information they need about their risk for heart disease and stroke and empower them to live stronger, healthier lives.
Thank you for opening your heart to support Go Red For Women.