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Stroke signs

Claire Kelley | Thursday, April 27, 2006

About this time last year, my father had a massive stroke. He was 47 years old and had previously been in perfect health – he was even well-known for his athletic physique. Unlike some strokes that are caused by a blood clot, my father had a rare rupture in his corroted artery that blocked the blood to the right side of his brain.

But the worst part came after the initial stroke. He was medicated to encourage the swelling in his brain to subside, but after two days, the neurosurgeon decided to operate. In the first operation they removed part of his skull, putting it in his stomach to keep the cells alive. But when the swelling continued, they had to remove part of his brain. Miraculously, he survived and he is totally mentally intact, although physically, his left side is paralyzed.

For the two weeks of school I missed, I stayed in the hospital 24 hours a day. I stayed awake at night, feeding my father ice chips and applying cold compresses to his head to keep his blood pressure down so that my mother could get a few hours of sleep in a chair next to his bed.

Certain images are still burned in my memory – the tortuous drive home from Notre Dame as my brother and I frantically contemplated what we would find when we reached the hospital ICU, my grandparents, aunts and uncles crying and praying in the hospital chapel, my mother picking up the phone in the waiting room to hear the results of the brain surgery from the neurosurgeon, my father’s bandaged head with blood draining out into a tube and the black and green screen that showed my father’s vital signs as they rose and fell from dangerous levels.

Looking back, what is most frustrating for me is that my father experienced some of the warning signs of stroke. He felt numb on his left side after working out one day, and so my mother called the paramedics. They suggested that he might have a pinched nerve. The next day, my father checked into the hospital overnight and was subjected to many tests, but since it was the weekend, they told him to come back later in the week for an MRI. He walked out of the hospital the next morning, went home to take a nap, and had a stroke in his sleep.

According to the American Heart Association, stroke is the leading cause of long term disability in the United States. But for some types of stroke, a drug can be given to a victim in the first three hours that reverses the damage. My advice is to research hospitals in your area to determine which one has the best program for dealing with strokes. Correct expertise is crucial.

When I remember what my family went through a year ago, it all seems like a scary science fiction movie. I feel lucky every single day that my father is alive and mentally himself. Through his hard work in rehabilitation, he is continually improving physically. Chances are you will encounter stoke in your lifetime. I hope you will be ready to fight it.