Stroke is the third leading cause of death in Minnesota, with 2,154 deaths in 2010, according to new data from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). To raise awareness of this rising problem Governor Mark Dayton declared May Stroke Awareness month. Not many people know or understand the symptoms of a stroke. Symptoms vary from person to person and can be hard to identify. Every second counts when a stroke strikes. A few seconds could mean the difference between life and death.
I like every other women in this country read the warning label on my hormonal contraception. I just like the rest of you thought “Hell, that never happens. They just put that on their label to cover their asses.” You know the line where it reads “Women over the age of 35 are at risk for blood clots and stroke while taking this medication.” I was only 26 and not 35 so I put little to no thought into it. The beauty behind hindsight is that it is only 50/50. My that will never happen to me moment came one cool crisp October morning.
I woke up feeling fine, grabbed my coffee, jumped in the Prius, and headed towards the freeway. Rush hour was terrible that morning and I wasn’t going anywhere fast. As I trudged along I started to have pain in my chest at first it was just annoying. Within a matter of minutes it went from annoying to stabbing, it felt like someone was trying to cut open my chest and rip my lungs out. The pain was getting worse and I could barely breathe, my left side started going numb and I started getting scared. I probably should have dialed 911, however I hit the Lexington parkway exit and went back towards Woodbury. To this day I can’t tell you how I made the drive from Saint Paul to Woodwinds health campus in Woodbury, someone up above was watching out for me that day.
All I remember is throwing my car into park and walking as fast as I could towards the Emergency room doors. The security guard saw me coming and reached out his hand just in time to keep me from collapsing on the floor. Next thing I know I am waking up to a nurse saying “Well it’s not a heart attack. Now are you going to help me take your clothes off or do I get to cut them off you.” Dazed and confused I quickly muttered “I’ll help.” The Dr came in when he got word I had come to and asked me a slew of questions. The Dr told me “You most likely have an infection in your chest so I am going to get you to x-ray.” I didn’t get an x-ray that day, instead I got a CT Scan. An infection would have been better than what I had in my lung. A Clot the size of a pea was blocking the main valve to my heart and I was stroking out. Within minutes my room was a fury of nurses and doctors. Clot busters were injected, blood pressure medication, heparin, and finally pain meds started to seep in to my veins. The Doctor looked me in the eye and said “You are one lucky woman, I shouldn’t be admitting you. You young lady, just beat death. Had you arrived just a few minutes later than you did, you would have died.”
You beat death, has stuck with me and I am greatful to be alive. I had my massive pulmonary embolism with infarction and stroke five days before my 27th birthday. Thursday October 22, 2009 was the day my life changed forever and I am greatful to be above ground. So now I celebrate two birthdays. I have my pulmaversary party on the 22nd of October and my actual Birthday on the 27th. On the 22nd I toast to friends, give as many hugs as I can and thank God that I am alive from the bottom of my surviving heart. Because I could have easily been another casket in the ground instead of a survivor cherishing every step she takes.
Above ground is where I plan to stay and I am using my second chance to raise awareness of Strokes and Heart disease. I want to save someone from having to go through the hell I lived through. A healthy heart is a loving heart. A surviving heart is a greatful heart. A Greatful heart is a healthy heart that shouts from the roof tops. I am blessed to be a part of the Twin Cities community which raised nearly 2.2 Million Dollars at the annual Heart Walk. 10, 000 people gathered last Saturday to walk for a cause and to show the world that we want to silence the #1 killer in America. Companies shared our passion, survivors stood proudly, and some walked with heavy hearts. The walk brought us together, each of us bound by a common thread, and forever changed by heart disease. Some came because they wanted to be healthy, others came to honor their past, and the lucky ones stood with surviving hearts. I am one of the lucky ones. Yet I was reminded of my Father and my cousin Emma who died at the age of three. She was the original reason I started taking part in Jump Rope for Heart and then the Twin Cities Heart Walk. Emma was with me on Saturday, I wore her name on my back. I didn’t walk for my surviving heart, I walked for Emma and her transplanted heart.
I am part of the new generation. Stroke just doesn’t affect the elderly. It can hit anyone at any time. No one is immune and when a stroke hits every second counts. I beg you from the bottom of my surviving heart to learn the signs and symptoms of a stroke. Take it from me the very life you might save could be your own.
Unique Symptoms in Women
It is important to recognize stroke symptoms and act quickly.
Common stroke symptoms seen in both men and women:
•Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg — especially on one side of the body
•Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
•Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
•Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
•Sudden severe headache with no known cause
Women may report unique stroke symptoms:
•sudden face and limb pain
•sudden general weakness
•sudden chest pain
•sudden shortness of breath
Call 9-1-1 immediately if you have any of these symptoms
Every minute counts for stroke patients and acting F.A.S.T. can lead patients to the stroke treatments they desperately need. The most effective stroke treatments are only available if the stroke is recognized and diagnosed within the first three hours of the first symptoms. Actually, many Americans are not aware that stroke patients may not be eligible for stroke treatments if they arrive at the hospital after the three-hour window.
Unique Symptoms in Women information provided by the National Stroke Association