At 38-years-old, Kenyetta Brasher was busy with life; traveling and visiting relatives, teaching fitness and yoga, and practicing Latin dance moves. When her eyes starting bothering her, she simply thought she needed new glasses. When she starting having headaches and was a bit clumsy, she just thought she was overtired and needed more rest.
But as she was getting ready for bed one Sunday night in 2008, reality struck home. She felt irritable, restless, and a bit dizzy. Her husband noticed she was mumbling in response to questions or not answering at all. As he watched, she tried to pull up the covers and her arm flopped around. Alarmed, he realized the left part of her body was drooping and raced her to Memorial Hermann.
Doctors there diagnosed Kenyetta with an ischemic stroke, or “mini-strokes,” and treated her with medication. A thrombolytic, or clot-busting agent, tPA, is the only drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the urgent treatment of ischemic stroke. If given intravenously in the first three hours after the start of stroke symptoms, tPA has been shown to significantly reverse the effects of stroke and reduce permanent disability.
Groundbreaking research into the benefits of tPA was conducted at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center and published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1995. This trail was the first promising treatment for stroke and eventually changed stroke management.
According to the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, stroke is one of the leading causes of death and serious, long-term disability in the United States. On average, someone suffers a stroke every 40 seconds; someone dies of a stroke every four minutes; and 795,000 people suffer a new or recurrent stroke each year.
“I consider myself extremely lucky; my husband recognized immediately that something was wrong and rushed to get me help. My recovery is still on-going; I find myself easily distracted, forgetful, and emotional, and I'm still regaining my memory,” said Kenyetta, who today is the Youth Development director at the Katy Family YMCA. “It’s ironic a few years before my stroke, I ran in a marathon to raise money for stroke awareness. You never think it will happen to you.”
Because stroke injures the brain, you may not realize you are having a stroke. To a bystander, someone having a stroke may just look unaware or confused. Stroke victims have the best chance if someone around them recognizes the symptoms and gets help quickly.
The symptoms of stroke are distinct because they happen fast:
Memorial Hermann recommends F.A.S.T. as an acronym to remember the sudden signs of stroke: Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, Time to call 9-1-1.
“It is extremely important to know the signs of stroke, but it’s equally important to know what risk factors you can control to lessen your risk of stroke,” said Philip S. Blum, MD, a neurologist affiliated with Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center. “Get your blood pressure under control, lose weight, quit smoking and manage your diabetes. It’s never too late to take charge of your health. The best treatment of stroke is prevention.”
To find out if you are at risk of stroke, talk with your health care provider.