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Young Adults Can Have Strokes -- It Happened to Me

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Stroke.  Whenever I used to hear that word uttered, I thought it was something I wouldn’t have to be concerned with until I was much older. Once elderly people had a stroke, their life was over– or so I mistakenly thought.

As a young person, I always thought I was invincible. I had young friends with cancer, friends who’d been in bad car wrecks and other horrific situations. I was always sad when these things happened, but selfish, in the sense I was always glad none of this happened to me. Before my stroke, my husband and I had a strong 11 year marriage, I had tried to be a good mom to a young boy and girl, I had a solid teaching career and things were proceeding as they should. I would say I had my priorities in order.

Something happened that turned my life upside down.

June 6, 2012, was when my opinion about strokes changed forever. I suffered a massive ischemic stroke in the brain stem which is responsible for many life giving acts we do daily (breathing, heart rate, breath support) without giving them a second thought. After the stroke, I couldn’t walk, talk or move anything. I was “locked in” which meant I could only move my eyes, and my family was told I might be a “vegetable” for the rest of my life. I was only 33.

When I was told all this information, it took a while for it to sink in. I was young, in shape and healthy, with a husband and two young kids. What type of a wife and mother was I going to be if I was in a wheelchair for the rest of my life and couldn’t say anything?

Would my husband want to stick around for this woman who had to rely on him for everything? I told him on many occasions he could leave. I wouldn’t like it, but I felt he deserved a “normal” wife. I felt it wasn’t fair of me to ask him to stay.

Would my kids still see me as mommy if I couldn’t ever hug them again? I felt trapped inside my own body with all these thoughts and fears, while none of them could be expressed. My opinion of life being over once a stroke hit definitely changed at that moment. It was then I decided to fight to gain back what I had lost. For my friends, for my family, for me.

The summer of 2012 was full of lots of rehabilitation and hard work. During my 12 week hospital stay, I learned to walk and talk again, taking baby steps the entire way, literally. When I was finally able to go home, more rehab was required by my doctors.

I remember the first time I went to the rehabilitation center, where many other people had suffered strokes as well, and I felt like I was in a nursing home. I was surrounded by a sea of white hair. Everybody was comparing stories on their grandkids or where they had retired from. I felt they looked at me like I was the oddball. I was definitely in the minority there. But I put my head down and focused on my rehab.

Never did I think at the age of 35 I would be retired from my job, be on disability, walk with a cane, and park in a disability spot. When people asked me, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” I did not include any of these things in my answer. But that’s OK, because I’m here.

Since my stroke, I have become active with American Heart Association/ American Stroke Association and I am passionate about educating others. It’s important for people to know that strokes can happen in young people, including infants. Nearly a quarter of strokes occur in people younger than 65. Regardless of age, the warning signs of strokes are the same. It’s often the reaction that’s different, though. Young people are more likely to ignore the symptoms, because they think a stroke can’t happen at their age.

Strokes can be easily recognized, even by a lay-person. The test to use is called the Face, Arm, Speech, Time test, or FAST. If a person is experiencing facial droop, if his or her arm or leg goes weak, if he or she has slurred or garbled speech, that person needs to go to the emergency room as quickly as possible.

I encourage all women to take your health seriously and know the warning signs of heart disease and stroke.

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Thinkstock image by aykuterd

Originally published: June 16, 2017
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