Stroke entered my world on July 10, 2018.
As a clinical pharmacist, working in stroke research and medical affairs, I traveled extensively to meetings and conferences within Florida and nationally. My sister, Pam, was my right hand at home with my kids and our 84-year-old mom, who had moved in with us. Pam was always a ray of sunshine with a yes attitude and never got sick. One day out of the blue, she spiked a fever and felt like she was catching a cold. A few days later, the fever persisted and she went to urgent care. She received antibiotics and was sent home. Three days later Pam still felt the same except with a higher fever, so she went back to the same urgent care. She received more antibiotics and Tylenol and was sent home. After seven days of not experiencing any improvement, Pam went to the Emergency Room.
To everyone’s shocking surprise, we found out Pam had a very serious underlying cardiovascular condition and needed surgery; she was misdiagnosed twice with an upper respiratory infection at the urgent care. Hence the journey began. She was admitted urgently, and my family and I left to take care of a million things prior the surgery. We came back three hours later to find Pam in the neuro ICU, intubated and on a ventilator surrounded by intensivists. She had had a massive stroke, an ischemic stroke with hemorrhagic conversion. The thrombectomy didn’t take as her vessels were so weak; her vascular neurologist attributed it to her smoking history. Her prognosis was very poor. We spent 21 days in ICU with her and she was discharged to a long term care facility, where we spent 10 days and from there hospice, where she passed. In less than 40 days, my 58-year-old sister was gone, way too young.
As fate would have it, almost exactly a year later July 11, 2019, I received a call from my family saying my mom had been acting strange all day. When I got home, she was acting in a very bizarre way and within an hour of being with her, the signs of stroke were appearing fast and clear. Her face was drooping, her body was shifting to the left, and she couldn’t move her left arm; she was slurring her speech and her eyes couldn’t look straight. I called 911 and as EMS made their way to the house I must have yelled "She's having a stroke!" so many times; what seemed to be 30 minutes was reported as 5 minutes. I was sure what it was, but remembered saying, "Time is brain. Get here." and remember thinking for every minute she’s losing 1.9 million neurons. I remember saying, "Act fast and be fast." Fortunately, it was a stroke and the team was ready when she got to the hospital. It was an ischemic stroke, which is very serious in a frail 84-year-old person. My mom survived and is still with us! The neurologist said she’s lucky to be alive, as smoking always comes back to collect; even after she quit 25 years ago.
These events have changed my life. None of these were coincidental. The sequence was bizarre, but it all has a meaning. Pam leaves a legacy, as the tragedy in life is not dying, but living without a purpose. Her name is an acronym: P= Prevention; A= Awareness and M= Management. I live through the acronym for my purpose, to create awareness and educate on stroke prevention. My mom’s story has strengthened my mission. I am a patient advocate for the American Heart Association and my story carries on in my efforts to bridge the knowledge gap in many dimensions. I volunteer as well with the Florida Stroke registry as a patient advocate to assist with many critical initiatives and cherish collaborating with stroke victims and other advocates.