May is American Stroke Month, and advocates use it to raise awareness about the fourth most common cause of death in the United States. It may not come as a surprise that stroke affects over 800,000 Americans each year, but something much less talked about is how stroke grips young adults too.
Brent Wylie was just 23-years-old when he was out one night in Atlanta doing what many 20-somethings do, bar-hopping. Seemingly out of nowhere, Wylie fell and could not get up. He was put on a gurney, talking to EMTs about how there was no way he could have had a stroke, in disbelief at their assumption over the observation that he was unable to move his arms and legs.
Wylie was otherwise a healthy young man, never overweight and always active. He is still in rehabilitation two years later, living with his mom and trying to rework the mobility in the body parts most afflicted by the incident—his left hand and left foot.
On Thursday, 26-year-old Grammy-nominated singer Jessie J. announced at a cancer gala in New York that she too, suffered a stroke at the tender age of 18.
The British-born singer suffers from Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, a heart condition that compromises the electrical circuits in the heart and causes irregular heart beat and blood flow. The young singer said that her condition caused her to have a stroke.
Pittsburg Penguins defenseman, Kris Letang, is another example of someone young, athletic and healthy affected by stroke. At the end of January 2014, 27-year-old Letang woke up in his home feeling off.
“The room started spinning,” he said. He fell on the bathroom floor. Letang was lucky to have his wife Catherine and his mother-in-law there to hear him fall and rush to his aid. Even though Catherine’s mother is a nurse, the idea that the professional hockey player was suffering from a stroke was not on their minds.
Only 0.01 percent of people Letang’s age have a stroke, which is why it came as a shock when tests confirmed that it was the cause for his dizziness and his fall. Tests showed that Letang also had an anomaly with his heart, but his doctors could not confirm whether it was a cause or contributor to his stroke.
Although all of these young adults survived stroke and are speaking out about their recovery and rehabilitation, their stories are still hard to swallow. A stroke is thought of as something that happens to people in their older age, or as a result of chronically poor health. These cases show that stroke grips young adults too, and that educating the public on the signs of a stroke applies to people of all ages, shapes and sizes.
A stroke is a blockage of oxygen to the brain, and can happen in one of two ways. A stroke typically happens because there is a blockage in a blood vessel supplying blood to the brain. Known as ischemic stroke, this type accounts for 87 percent of all cases. The less common, but still serious hemorrhagic stroke is caused by the weakening and eventual rupture of a blood vessel. The most common cause for hemorrhagic stroke is unchecked high blood pressure.
Either type of stroke causes devastating effects. Depending on the part of the brain experiencing the lack of oxygen and how long it lasts, strokes can paralyze different parts of the body or mind, causing paralysis, speech impairment and in some cases, death.
The American Stroke Association lists a number of behaviors and hereditary conditions that may put people at a higher risk of having a stroke. The number one indicator on the list is age, with risk doubling for each decade after age 55, but that is not to imply that stroke does not grip young adults too. Stroke is preventable 80 percent of the time, especially if people are better educated at understanding risk factors, signs and symptoms.
By Erica Salcuni