CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. – Michelle Black’s memories surrounding the events of Feb. 28 are piecemeal: a hand filled with crumpled tissue and an inability to fully explain to her husband what she was doing with it; a sharp pain on the right side of her head, just above her eye; being led back to her bedroom to lie down while her husband, Matthew, dialed 911.
What continued to unfold are just fleeting moments of a morning routine tainted by something that to many Michelle’s age seems unfathomable: the 38-year-old wife, teacher and mother of three was having a stroke.
When medics arrived to her Newburg home, they quickly evaluated Michelle, taking her vitals, asking her to smile and instructing her to lift her left arm and leg. Michelle was exhibiting tell-tale signs of stroke and soon was placed in an ambulance as the countdown started to begin treatment as quickly as possible and limit permanent damage to her brain.
“In the ambulance, I remember hearing them calling ahead to Chambersburg (Hospital) that they were bringing in a 38-year-old female stroke victim,” noted Michelle. “In my head, I was thinking ‘This isn’t right; I can’t be having a stroke because I’m only 38. I don’t smoke or drink.’”
Additionally, Michelle had just started a new hobby – running.
“Many young adults don’t think of stroke as something that could affect them, at least not until they’re much older,” explained Dr. Sanjay Dhar, medical director of Summit Health’s stroke program. “Unfortunately, no age is immune to stroke. Lifestyle, stress and other influencing factors are contributing to stroke in younger people.”
Once at Chambersburg Hospital, emergency physicians conferred with a WellSpan neurologist via teleconference and determined the best course of action would be to treat Michelle with tissue plasminogen activator, or tPA, a clot-dissolving treatment given intravenously.
After tPA, Michelle would need air-lifted to York where a neurosurgeon would remove what remained of the clot.
Two days after having her stroke, doctors monitoring her progress determined she was stable enough to be moved to a rehabilitation unit.
Once settled in her new room, cardiologists told Michelle they had gotten insight into what contributed to her stroke.
“They noticed that I had a Prothrombin Gene Mutation in my blood; basically, my blood clots easier than some,” she said.
Additional investigation showed Michelle also had an Atrial Septal Defect – a hole in her septum.
Michelle would need outpatient physical therapy and a procedure to close the hole, but less than a week after having her stroke, she was well enough to go home. Some doctors even labeled her quick recovery a miracle.
In the weeks that followed, Michelle eased into everyday activities and returned to work. And while her life may seem as though it’s back to normal, life as she knew it before Feb. 28 has changed. She now takes five medications instead of one and tires easily.
“Before the stroke, I was constantly on the move,” Michelle explained. “I am trying to learn how to slow myself down and what to worry about and what to let go of.”
She also has been left with one sobering thought she wants other young adults to remember.
“So often when we are younger, we tend to think that we are invincible,” said Michelle. “Stroke has no age limits.”
Signs of stroke
Know the signs of stroke and act F.A.S.T.:
F – Face drooping
A – Arm weakness
S – Speech difficulty
If you see or experience any of these signs, it is:
T – Time to call 911
Acting F.A.S.T. could mean the difference between life and death.