When I was 24, I was working a typical day at my first post-college job when I experienced a very sudden and excruciating headache. As I continued a conversation with a co-worker, I began to notice changes in my vision as well as an intensity in pain. We both dismissed these symptoms as telltale signs of a migraine, so I headed to the employee area to “sit it out.” Within a few minutes, my mouth started to tingle and my fingertips went numb.
Concerned, I called my mother—a cardiac R.N.—to see if my symptoms were anything to be worried about. Her response was to call 9-1-1 immediately and have an ambulance take me to the hospital.
I ignored her instruction and decided to have a friend take me to the emergency room of a nearby hospital instead. Once I described my symptoms to triage, I immediately was taken to be seen by a physician. After a chest X-Ray and CT scan, it was decided that I had experienced a Transient Ischemic Attack (T.I.A.). I spent only a few hours in the hospital before I was discharged with a diagnoses of a “mini-stroke with no brain damage.” At the age of 24, I didn’t take any of this seriously. In fact, my friend who drove me joked with me about the experience several times after it happened.
It wasn’t until I started working for the American Heart Association two years later that I learned how serious a T.I.A. is and how imperative it was for me to have listened to my mother’s instruction and call 9-1-1. Had I have been experiencing an actual stroke, for which the warning signs are the same, I could have died or suffered severe disability. With stroke, time is of the essence. Time can mean life or death. Time can mean brain saved or lost. Time is everything.
Now my mission is to educate other young adults who may dismiss our No. 5 killer and No. 1 cause of disability as something they don’t need to be concerned with. Stroke can affect anyone, which is why it is important to know and recognize the warning signs. Think F.A.S.T.: Facial drooping, Arm weakness, Slurred speech, Time to call 9-1-1. Don’t risk it by brushing it off as “probably nothing,” because it might be something and it might become too late.