Sunday, October 23, 2016

Instead of the Arena

Instead of heading to the arena, former NBA athlete went to the emergency room for stroke.


Former NBA player Juaquin Hawkins was finishing a series of road games with his basketball team in Australia when he reached to turn on the faucet and the finger tips on his right hand began to tingle, a feeling that quickly ran up his arm.

“I thought that my arm was numb from sleeping on it,” said Hawkins of the morning of Jan. 1, 2008. “But then I got this throbbing headache, like someone was hitting me with a bat.”

He felt nauseated and his vision blurred, so he returned to bed, thinking maybe he just needed to lie down. Instead, the symptoms worsened and his right arm wouldn’t move at all. He decided to go look at himself in the mirror and everything looked normal, until he tried smiling and saw the right side of his face droop.

“I was so terrified, that I just looked away,” he said. “If the idea of a stroke came into my head, I immediately pushed it away. I was a 34-year-old professional athlete. I thought strokes were something only the elderly experienced.”

Hawkins’ roommate had already left for breakfast with the rest of the team. During this time, Hawkins, in the room by himself, decided to revisit the mirror to see if his face was still disfigured. Taking one step from the bed he immediately crashed to the floor. The entire right side now had no feeling. He found a way to drag himself to the door to retrieve some help — but after opening the door he found the hallway empty.

He began to panic.

“I knew something was really wrong and was just trying to brace myself for whatever was going to happen next,” he said.

Hawkins could barely make out the word “doctor” by the time his roommate returned. But when the team masseuse arrived, the feeling in Hawkins’ right side had returned. Very uncomfortable and after repeatedly asking to be taken to a doctor, the team officials didn’t realize the urgency and insisted he get to the airport and accompany the team on the last flight of the day to the next game.

During the two-leg flight, Hawkins felt agitated. His speech stuttered, he had a throbbing headache and felt weak. After checking into the team hotel, he was taken to a hospital and diagnosed with dehydration with no additional testing done. He was given intravenous fluids and discharged after a few hours.

The next day when he woke up, he began to feel nauseated again and was unable to hear out of his right ear. Eventually the team officials were able to take him back to the hospital where a CT scan showed bleeding in his brain.

Hawkins was shocked when the doctors told him that he had suffered an ischemic stroke and may never play basketball again.

“I just said, ‘I can’t have a stroke, I’m a professional athlete and I have a game tonight,’” he said.

Hawkins’ diagnosis came 27 hours after his first symptoms appeared. It was too late for the clot-busting medication tissue plasmogen activator. He was given anti-clotting medication and he stayed in the hospital for a week. During that time, his speech and cognition became impaired.

“It got to the point where I couldn’t tell the difference between a circle and a triangle, or read a sentence,” he said.

While he didn’t lose the ability to walk, he felt weak and struggled to maintain stamina.

Hawkins finished his season off the court and would spend the next three months undergoing therapy to recover his speech and memory, as he continued to stutter and experience aphasia for almost three years. He’d confuse his daughters’ names at times and had difficulty maintaining a conversation.

“It was embarrassing for me, so I found myself just not talking, shaking my head or nodding instead,” he said. “I was always worried I’d say the wrong thing.”

He also experienced severe depression and went into a financial crisis after not being employed for quite some time. That caused him to lose his home. He moved his family between hotels and the homes of friends and relatives before getting back on his feet.

After some time, Hawkins did return to the court prematurely but after a year he decided to officially retire. His 14-year career had included teams in five countries. In the NBA, he played briefly with the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors during preseason training before joining the Houston Rockets during the 2002-2003 season.

He found a new path as a coach, working with area schools to provide athletic and mentoring programs. He also started Hawk Hoops, a youth mentoring and basketball program teaching players the fundamentals of basketball and to play in tournaments locally and nationally. His teams competed earlier this year in the Annual Mercadel/Hawk Hoops stroke awareness tournament. Earlier this month, they played in the AVAC Hoyas and West Coast Power Alliance’s Stroke Awareness Basketball Tournament in Seal Beach, California.

At times, Hawkins will speak to his players, their families and outside organizations about his stroke experience.

“It’s a big part of my life now,” he said. “It made me a better person and gave me an experience that I can use to educate other people on how to deal with stroke or hardship in general.”

In addition to Hawk Hoops, Hawkins is a paid motivational speaker. He also published a book about his experiences called “A Stroke of Grace.”

Over the last several years, Hawkins has shared his story in media interviews, volunteering as an American Stroke Association national Power to End Stroke ambassador in all communities, but with a special devotion to black communities.

Blacks have almost twice the risk of first-ever strokes compared to whites, and experience higher death rates due to stroke.

In 2010, Hawkins received a “Power Award” from the ASA for the volunteer work he’s done, both nationally and throughout Southern California.

“Raising awareness is very powerful for me,” he said. “Every time I talk to someone who has had a stroke, we connect immediately. I feel so grateful that I can give inspiration to others to keep working toward recovery.”

Doctors aren’t sure why Hawkins had the stroke. He did not have a family history or any risk factors.

Today, he lives near San Bernardino, California. He continues to take a daily aspirin and tries to maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating the right foods.

Now, 42, he still experiences some effects from his stroke. His right side gets colder than his left, and he can’t drive more than 45 minutes without his right leg feeling like it’s falling asleep.

Copyright is owned or held by the American Heart Association,Inc., and all rights are reserved. Permission is granted, at no cost and without need for further request, to link to, quote, excerpt or reprint from these stories in any medium as long as no text is altered and proper attribution is made to the American Heart Association News. See full terms of use.


Sunday, October 16, 2016

Oh, We Are Going to the Hospital

The following personal story was published on the American Heart Association web site:
My daughter suffered an acute ischemic stroke on 8/23/2014 while moving into her college dorm at the age of 17. Luckily I was there and knew what was happening. She fell on the floor and was paralyzed on her left side, unable to speak clearly. I had the roommate sit with her while I ran to the security desk for them to call 911. Ambulance arrives, starts taking information and her symptoms go away, they suggest maybe we don't want to go to the hospital now?

I said oh we are going to the hospital, why would they even offer that? Had I not been there what would my 17yr old have said?

Rushed to Lankenau because once they had her on the stretcher she was paralyzed again on left side. Once at Lankenau Hosp the neurologist in the ER says to me "well either she is having a stroke or she is faking"! So you know I let him have an ear full! Then she comes back from MRI and they confirm, deep clot in right side of the back of her brain.

They explain to me what the up and down side of administering tPA. I give permission to administer and hold my breath that its not a bleed. By now my husband has arrived at the hospital and we just can't figure how this has happened. She is moved to ICU and the next afternoon she is transferred to Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia. She is only 17 and they are better equipped to treat her.

After one week there and many tests to find out why, we still are not 100% sure. They feel that her Lipid A was elevated and with hormone from her birth control, that is what caused the stroke. She was transferred to inpatient rehab for two weeks and then discharged to outpatient rehab, which she followed for 10 months. She was able to start college the Spring of 2015 while going to rehab locally.

While inpatient we discussed getting a tattoo which she had asked me for many times before and I always said no, Her stroke made me realize I had to put things in my life in perspective. I said yes, but make the tattoo meaningful to you and not some guys name or some silly picture you will regret. She had the date of her stroke tattooed on the back of her left shoulder! She said in her instagram picture of the tattoo, "People tell you not to get a tattoo because they are permanent, but this day will always remind me that life itself is temporary"! How can I argue with that!

My daughter will be starting her junior year in college in the fall and she had a full scholarship that day 8/23/2014 to play basketball on the Woman's Division I team there at Saint Joseph University in Philadelphia, PA! They have honored her scholarship and she has worked endlessly to get back to where she was that day. The season starts November 2016 and we are hoping and praying she is on that court in her uniform for which she worked so hard for!

Reading all of your stories, I think we each gain something from each other and puts life in perspective with what each of us has lost, gained and shows the true strength that lies within each of us. Best of luck to all of you in your lives and recovery! Like Prince's song, We are trying to get through this thing called Life!

American Heart Association

Copyright is owned or held by the American Heart Association,Inc., and all rights are reserved. Permission is granted, at no cost and without need for further request, to link to, quote, excerpt or reprint from these stories in any medium as long as no text is altered and proper attribution is made to the American Heart Association News. See full terms of use.


Sunday, October 9, 2016

Caregiving: Then Reality Sets In

The following article was first published on the Care Partners Resource web site ( in April 2013. The author, Lori, is also the owner of the web site and a volunteer at our Colorado Stroke Camp. I encourage you to visit her site for
excellent articles and help on caregiving.
When you’ve said YES to Caregiving: then reality sets in.

Posted by Lori (click the blue link to see her site) on Tuesday, April 16, 2013.

Most people have no idea what comes with saying “YES” to caring for a loved one. What do you do once you have said yes and then realize it is more than you bargained for? Maybe it is an immediate “oh no this is more than I can handle,” maybe after a short while you realize you aren’t cut out for this or perhaps you have been caring for your loved one for a while and things have changed so you to no longer feel able to meet the needs of your loved one or yourself. There are many reasons you could feel in over head and with that decision comes: guilt, a sense of failure, betrayal or fear of judgment.

Is it fair to judge yourself for being honest? Is it fair for others to judge you? The answer to both is NO and yet we cannot help but do it. I am sure many of us have had feelings that this is just too much but feel there is no way out. We continue to go on as we have for many reasons, the emotions mentioned above or money or you simply don’t know how to make a change.

A friend recently told me something that resonated in many ways. She asked “how often have you made a commitment and for whatever reason you realize you can no longer honor your decision?” She followed up with this very wise advice: Ask yourself are you now continuing to honor the promise to your loved one (or the person to whom you have made the commitment) or are you just committed to the commitment? Is this truly doing the honorable thing or are you becoming a martyr?

As a caregiver I was faced with this decision many times. I was fortunate to have finances and a supportive family that allowed me to not only do what was best for our mom but also care for myself in the process. Our care plan changed many times over the 8 years.

Many caregivers are not met with support when they voice their challenges. There is often judgment and resistance from family members and friends. Some caregivers have no one to help them during these challenging times. And even with support there often is self criticism and doubt.

How can you find solutions to alter your care plan that also honors the commitment and your needs? Here are some steps to help begin the process:
Identify the challenge(s). Be specific, can you see how each of these may have different solutions?

– I am exhausted
– I am depressed
– I feel isolated and alone

2. Ways to identify the challenge. Start by making a list and then try to identify what is causing the problem. Often the original challenge is not actually the problem.

– EXAMPLE: You may think the challenge is you have lost your patience. But you discover the problem is you are exhausted. Once you think about it you realize the reason is not due to lack of sleep but due to depression.

3. Work on one challenge at a time

4. Start your search to solve the problem: Seek help from a professional

– A good place to begin is mentioning the situation with your loved ones physician

– Seek advice from other caregivers. There are many support groups in most areas or on-line
– For many common caregiving challenges you can get solutions by using an organization like Family Caregiving 101, National Stroke Association or The Area Agency on Aging,, just to name a few. Most of these organizations have on line information and someone you can speak with.

– If you are stuck try Google or Bing they can be great resources. Just type in your problem

It may be that even after this research you still feel unable to continue on in the role as caregiver. There are resources and funding to help in finding alternative care in most cases. Ask about alternatives when you are researching assistance. Finally no matter what you decide is the answer be gentle with yourself. Caregiving is not easy and not for everyone. Taking good care of yourself is the best way to care for your loved one!


Sunday, October 2, 2016

Brainrain Before The Strokelight

I am reposting the following incredible, personal story taken from the American Heart Association's web site, Support Network:

Hello and thank you for allowing me to share my story.

It was Saturday afternoon and I was home alone trying to rest. It had been a very challenging week at work. I had fallen asleep in the recliner.The clap of thunder startled me from my restless nap. I stumbled to my feet and leaned against the wall for support. I was in pain. Again.
I walked into the living room still holding o
nto the wall. I felt the rain falling slowly at first. But it couldn't be raining. It was February. . . in Illinois.
The outdoor temperature was well below freezing. Usually snow is the only precipitation falling from the sky around here in February.

But this day was quite different. The rainstorm I felt wasn't outside. The rainstorm was inside. It was inside my brain. But how was it raining in my brain? That’s not even possible, is it? Yes it is. The rainstorm was BrainRain. Yes. BrainRain. The BrainRain was flooding my head. The BrainRain was flooding my body. I didn't know it at the time but this BrainRain was a stroke. I was having a hemorrhagic stroke. My brain was bleeding in multiple places and I had no idea what was happening.

The pain in my brain was hot. The pain in my brain felt wet. The pain pulsated at the top of my head and trickled down the left side of my head, like fingernails scraping across a blackboard. The pain in my brain was traveling, plunging deep inside the soft, gray tissue of my brain. It was unbearable pain, inside my brain. At the same time, I noticed an unusual taste in the left side of my mouth. It tasted a lot like metal. It tasted like the smell of an ammonia-based household cleanser. You know the smell, right?Where did that come from? What was that awful taste?

I tried to speak, tried to say something, tried to yell hoping to release the pain. All I could muster was a moan. It was a moan that crawled up from my belly. I kept leaning against the wall for support. I still didn't know what was wrong but I knew I separately needed help.

Suddenly, I felt another clap. The clap felt like lightning had struck. It hit at the very center top of my skull. The pain was sharp. The pain was burning. That clap was followed by a popping sound in my head. My knees buckled and my right arm and leg dangled at my side. I slid down the wall, inched myself over to the couch and leaned against it.

I looked at my right arm. I could see my right leg and my right foot. But I couldn't feel them. They were foreign to my body. My brain struggled to connect with them, trying to understand why they were just lying there on the floor in an unusual position, doing nothing.

My brain was trying to talk to my arm, struggling to tell my leg, “Move. Get up. We gotta get UP.” But no words came out of my dry mouth. My limbs could not and would not obey my thoughts. And my thoughts were swirling. My thoughts were spinning out of control. What should I do? Where did my arm go? Should I call, who did this, why doesn't my arm move, what is, how did, whaaaat!

The heat in my head seemed to become hotter. It felt like fire. Was my brain on fire? I slowly raised my left hand to my head, afraid of what my fingers might find. One by one, my fingers gently searched my scalp. Hmmm. Nothing wet. No flames but I needed to call someone for help. This was a brutal storm. The thunder, the BrainRain, the dangling arm and leg was too much.

I had no idea this emergency, this BrainRain would change my life. I didn't know this emergency would change me and impact my family and friends. I wasn't aware the BrainRain would thrust me unprepared into a new adventure. I grabbed my cellphone. I couldn't understand what to do at first but finally saw a familiar number in my phone directory. I hit the speed dial button. My sister answered her phone and came quickly.

The ambulance took me to the nearest community hospital. That hospital transferred me to another hospital in the city and I spent two days there, according to my sister. I don't remember a thing. The nearest certified stroke center was UI Health in Chicago. I was transferred there from a community hospital. At the hospital, the doctor asked my family to step outside my room so he could speak with them. At the time, I was in and out of consciousness asking for somebody, anybody, to rub my head, hoping for some relief. The doctor gave my college-age son and my sister the bleak news. His words
were short and his tone was very serious.

"Intracranial hemorrhage. Quite serious. The most fatal type of stroke. She has thin, ruptured arteries. Lots of blood in and on her brain. Her brain is swollen. She's having seizures and clots in her legs and lung. We'll do our best but don't know if she will make it. We'll keep you updated."

The moments in ICU stretched into hours and the hours stretched into days. Family and friends kept vigil. My condition worsened and I had to be intubated. My family and friends hoped for the best and prayed for a miracle. As the days turned into weeks, I began to slowly improve. The doctors were shocked. The Lord had answered the prayers with a resounding “YES”. The bleeds began to heal and the swelling subsided. I regained some use in my right side.

The Lord used UI Health to save my life and assist me in recovery and renewal. They weren't able to find the cause of the bleeds. Even after five brain angiograms and thorough full-body testing, they didn't find a direct cause. I didn't have any of the risk factors: never smoked, not a drinker, no diabetes or HBP nor AFib. But as a result of this experience, I am more vigilant about my eating and exercise. The neurological education has been a great help.
I'm thankful to learn so much about our incredible brains.

UI Hospital was home for nine weeks the first time, and approximately ten days with the second BrainRain stroke. I needed surgery on my brain to remove the second bleed. I was discharged with a wheelchair and other assistive equipment. The therapists sent me home with a large packet of exercises, self-care tips and taught me how to walk with a cane and AFO. I needed professional home care the first couple years. My family and friends
were extraordinary. They drove me to my doctor appointments, cooked, shopped, cleaned, helped me manage my finances, cried and prayed with me.
I could not have made it without my sons, sister and my friends.

I am so grateful for the wonderful acute physical and occupational therapy and outpatient therapy which continues even today. It has been seven long years and I have never given up hope. I do have a number of deficits-field cut, foot drop, weakness in the affected arm/leg, some cognitive challenges and chronic headaches. I see these deficits as an opportunity to learn and function in new and different ways.

I am thankful for the BrainRain. That might sound odd but let me tell you why I am so thankful.
When a severe rainstorm occurs, there can be uprooted trees, damaged tree branches, flooding and inconveniences. The rainstorm in my life, the BrainRain, caused some 'uprooting' in my life. I needed to remove some things. I got flooded with many changes. Many of them were necessary.
The 'tree branches' in my life were pruned and are still being pruned. I'm still growing and learning.

Yep. It was painful. I definitely would not have pulled up to a drive-through window and ordered “One BrainRain to go, please.”
Definitely not.

But the BrainRain refreshed my thoughts, my relationships, and my health. I now have an opportunity to serve as co-leader of the Living After Stroke support group at the hospital. As I visit and encourage other stroke patients, they strengthen me. I've also had the opportunity to do some stroke public service announcements on local television during his past National Stroke Awareness Month.

BrainRain has given me the chance to serve in various capacities, in my local fellowship and in the community. I’m currently working on my first nonfiction book. It is designed to encourage and empower other stroke survivors to be champions. My book will outline a practical 5-step framework to uncover hurt and develop hope and healing. I'm looking forward to sharing the book with you later this year.

I've gained new friends and met some amazing people. Without having the strokes, I would have never met these friends or had such wonderful experie
Yes. I am thankful for the rainstorm, the clap of thunder and the lightning.
I am grateful for the BrainRain.

©Marshelle Samuels, StrokeLight: Uncover 5 Steps to Heal Your Hurt and Have Hope Again, (Columbus, Ohio, AAE, 2016)

Thank you.

Posted by StrokeLight2B on Jun 13, 2016 3:26 AM CDT

Copyright is owned or held by the American Heart Association,Inc., and all rights are reserved. Permission is granted, at no cost and without need for further request, to link to, quote, excerpt or reprint from these stories in any medium as long as no text is altered and proper attribution is made to the American Heart Association News. See full terms of use.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Are You Feeling Stressed.

I came across this app the other day that can be used on either a tablet or cell phone that I thought would be useful for many of you caregivers.

Breathe2Relax (click the blue link to see the site)
Cost: Free (iOS/Android)

This app is a “portable stress management tool” that teaches you diaphragmatic breathing, a technique that’s been taught for centuries as a way of reducing stress and decreasing the body’s fight or flight response. Choose the breathing cycle that’s right for you, and the app makes it easy to practice. As you develop your skills, you can begin to “belly breathe” as you walk, drive, watch TV, attend meetings and perform other everyday activities.

Breathe2Relax is a portable stress management tool. Breathe2Relax is a hands-on diaphragmatic breathing exercise. Breathing exercises have been documented to decrease the body's 'fight-or-flight' (stress) response, and help with mood stabilization, anger control, and anxiety management.Breathe2Relax can be used as a stand-alone stress reduction tool, or can be used in tandem with clinical care directed by a healthcare worker.

Capitalizing on touch-screen technology, a user can record their stress level on a 'visual analogue scale' by simply swiping a small bar to the left or to the right. Breathe2Relax uses state-of-the-art graphics, animation, narration, and videos to deliver a sophisticated, immersive experience for the user.

What is the purpose of Breathe2Relax?

Breathe2Relax was developed to teach a skill called diaphragmatic breathing, sometimes called "belly breathing". This kind of breathing has been taught for centuries as a way of turning on the body's relaxation response. This app, using smart phone technology, allows you to learn and practice this skill on your own or as part of a stress management program supervised by your healthcare professional. The app also provides detailed information on the effects of stress on the body which you should become familiar with.

Can I use diaphragmatic breathing to help during very stressful situations?
Yes, it can be useful during highly stressful situations, but it's important to understand that it is not an immediate antidote to high stress. Diaphragmatic breathing will not immediately slow a racing heart or filter adrenaline from you system. Many people make the mistake of trying to use the skill only during times of high stress, and when they don't feel immediately better, they conclude that it doesn't help. Like any stress management skill, diaphragmatic breathing requires practice and regular use.

Am I supposed to close my eyes (I feel more relaxed that way)?

During the initial learning process it's best to keep your eyes open so you can watch your stomach as you practice breathing from your diaphragm. You'll want to see your belly rise and your chest stay motionless as you breathe. After you're confident that you have mastered the skill, you can certainly close your eyes if it helps you to relax. Remember though, that the best results will occur when you develop the habit of belly breathing as you go through everyday life, walking, driving, watching TV, etc.

How often should I practice?

Practice as often as you can. One of the advantages of having this information on a smart phone is that your practice opportunities are available anytime you have your phone with you.

Can I use headphones?

Yes, as long as they are comfortable. The audio instructions are important as you begin to practice this skill and you should make use of them whenever possible.

Do I have to practice lying down? What if I want to use this out in public?

Practicing while you are lying down isn't necessary to learn this skill. If, in the beginning, you have any difficulty breathing from your belly however, lying down with a book on your stomach so you can watch it rise and fall as you breathe, can be a great help to make sure you are practicing the skill correctly. As you get more comfortable with the skill, practice it whenever and wherever you can. The goal is to make this your natural way of breathing.

How can I slow down/speed up the pace of the breathing exercises?

In the Practice area of the app you can use the Shorten or Lengthen buttons to change the pace of the breathing exercise to match a pace that is comfortable for you. You can also set a pace for inhaling and exhaling by going to Settings > Cycle Settings and following the instructions for using your natural breathing cycle as the basis of the practice settings. You can also change the number of practice cycles in the Practice exercise from the default setting of 16 cycles.

Are there any cautions I should be aware of regarding diaphragmatic breathing?

For persons with lung problems or those who simply have a weak diaphragm, this exercise might be tiring at first. Be sure not to overly strain or injure yourself and stop if you begin to feel discomfort. If you have serious pulmonary issues, consult a doctor before attempting diaphragmatic breathing.


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Expressing Creativity Through Music After Stroke

The following article appeared on the Stroke Connection web site:

It features our very own Chime Strokers group

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Rockford Stroke Camp, August 2016

August 19-21, 2016 was one of the best camps I've had the privilege of attending. I know, if you've been taking notes you know I said that last year. Well it's true.  It was held again at the Lutheran Outdoors Ministry Camp (LOMC) located near Oregon, Illinois. We've used this camp grounds several times now and it is a terrific place with lots of scenic beauty and wildlife. During morning walks we have spotted deer, turkey, coyote, and many birds. This year was no exception. 

Again this year we had two camps going on the same weekend so we had to pack both the van and the trailer. 

The van went to Estes Park, Colorado and 

the trailer went to the LOMC camp. 


There were many repeat campers this year as in the past. More than half had attended more than one camp this year at this location. There were two camps held this year at LOMC a couple months apart and most of the repeats attended both camps. 

Now tell me, don't you think this bunch looks great just like last years bunch?

We were housed comfortably in three beautiful locations. Here are two of them.

Here's a look at some of the things we do at camp.

                 Nail painting


            Hand waxing


We usually have fishing on our agenda for the weekend also however this year it got rained out.

One camper and volunteer did manage to avoid the rain and got to enjoy the paddle boat.

A volunteer or staff member is always on-site to help the stroke survivor enjoy the moment.

This year we were able to repeat an unusual treat in that we were able to help our stroke survivors and their caregivers enjoy the zip-line that the LOMC camp has on-site. 

I wish you could have seen the excitement of the survivors as they did this. Plenty of assistance was available to help them enjoy this. Survivors who were able to at least stand alone, even without the use of their hands were able to experience this.

We also do crafts, entertain our campers with skits, and always have a special, fun filled Saturday evening program for your enjoyment. And always our signature drum circles.

This year led by Music Therapist Kristin Conrad.

You never know what to expect at our camps because we strive to make them fun, entertaining, educational, comfortable, well fed, and therapeutic. Please come join us some time.


Sunday, August 28, 2016

Hidden Stroke Victims: The Young

The following article comes from kaizer health news (KHN):

KHN’s coverage in California is funded in part by Blue Shield of California Foundation.

By Anna Gorman Photos by Heidi de Marco August 24, 2016

Jamie Hancock, 38, at her house in Rocklin, Calif., in June 2016. Six years ago, Hancock suffered a stroke caused by a tear in her artery. (Heidi de Marco/KHN)

ROCKLIN, Calif. — The headaches were excruciating and wouldn’t go away. Her doctor said they were migraines. Then, one morning a few weeks later, Jamie Hancock stood up from the couch and discovered she couldn’t move the right side of her body. When she spoke, her speech was slurred.

At the hospital, doctors told her she was having a stroke. The 32-year-old Hancock, whose children were just 1 and 3, had a sobering epiphany: “My whole life is changed forever.”

Now, six years later, no one would know she is a stroke survivor. A lifelong dancer, she is fit and muscular. She speaks clearly and walks quickly as she shuttles her kids around, runs errands and teaches dance classes.

But the effects — for her and other young stroke victims — linger just below the surface. They are there when she gets mad at her family, when she can’t remember what she needs at the grocery store, when she tires after working for a few hours. The noise and light can be unbearable, forcing her to escape to a dark room.

Some days Hancock tries to be the energetic and sociable working mom she was before the stroke. Then she crashes.

“I sort of forget I have a disability and I think I can do everything anyone else my age can do,” she said. “But I can’t.”

Hancock is among a growing number of younger adults who’ve had strokes, which occur when blood flow to the brain is blocked or a vessel in the brain bursts. Because strokes are most often associated with old age, symptoms in younger adults may be overlooked, according to patients, advocates and physicians. And their need for rehabilitation — to return to active lives as parents and employees, for instance — can be underestimated.

“The American public is still very locked on stroke being an [affliction] of the elderly,” said Amy Edmunds, who started a nationwide advocacy and support organization called YoungStroke. “But we are an emerging population … and we really need to be recognized.”

The rate of hospitalization for strokes dropped nationwide by 8 percent between 2000 and 2010 (from 250 to 204 per 100,000), but in those same ten years it increased almost 44 percent for people ages 25 to 44, though from a much smaller base (from 16 to 23 per 100,000), according to research published in May in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Hancock serves lunch to her children Blythe, 9, and Andrew, 7. Hancock said she lost the cognitive ability to do certain tasks which made it difficult to keep her full-time, office job. (Heidi de Marco/KHN)

The reasons for the rising prevalence among young people are not clear, but physicians believe that growing risk factors such as hypertension, smoking and obesity contribute. And because younger patients aren’t as aware that they can get strokes, they may not be proactive about controlling those risk factors. Older patients, by contrast, may be more inclined to exercise, eat healthy and take preventive medications.

“Older people are educated and understand they need to take care of themselves and are doing all the things to prevent strokes,” said Lisa Yanase, a stroke neurologist at Providence Health & Services in Oregon. “Young adults … think they are bulletproof. They haven’t had the realization that these things can actually be bad for them.”

Some young people also may have strokes because of drug abuse, and others because of undiagnosed genetic conditions. Hancock’s stroke was caused by a tear in the artery.

Strokes are still more common among older adults though. People ages 18 to 50 years old account for only about 10 percent of the 795,000 strokes that occur each year, according to the American Heart Association.

When their patients are younger, doctors don’t always immediately recognize strokes, said Lucas Ramirez, a physician at Keck Hospital of USC and one of the co-authors of the journal article. Young adults may also be unaware they are having a stroke, jeopardizing their chances of receiving critical, time-sensitive treatment.

Common symptoms, for all ages, include sudden confusion or numbness, slurred speech or severe headache.

Hancock said she had no idea of the warning signs. “I had heard about strokes, but I thought they were for the elderly,” she said.


Years had passed since the stroke, and now the Fourth of July was just a few days away. Hancock had promised her children they could buy fireworks. Blythe, 9, and Andrew, 7, selected several sets. But when the clerk handed the bag to the kids, one of Andrew’s wasn’t inside.

“Mom, where’s my rocket man?” he asked.

Hancock told her son to stop. But he asked again — and again.

“Hold on!” she yelled. “I’m trying to focus on paying. You know I have a hard time with focusing.”

Hancock and her children get ready for a shopping trip to the grocery store in June 2016. Hancock said her stroke made her forgetful, so Blythe has to help her keep track of things around the house. (Heidi de Marco/KHN)

Hancock said she never used to be that way. Now, she has trouble multitasking and gets angry about minor things — her daughter playing music too loud, her son bouncing the ball inside the house. “My family pays the price,” she lamented.

Both children say they’ve learned what to do when their mom gets stressed. Andrew gives her hugs. Blythe helps her take deep breaths. “Sometimes she has really good days and sometimes she has horrible days,” Blythe said.

In addition to the emotional roller coaster, Hancock said she has lost the cognitive ability to do some things, such as handling the family finances.

There is less money to go around, too. Just a few months after the stroke, Hancock returned to her job as an executive assistant at the California Restaurant Association. But she had trouble concentrating, couldn’t manage her time or meet deadlines — and she eventually left. She later got fired from a subsequent job.

“I would get distracted really, really easily,” she said. “I still do.”

Hancock said she spiraled into depression, which therapists later told her was likely a symptom of the stroke. She also became addicted to a painkiller prescribed to treat her headaches. She said it helped her get through the day without feeling exhausted.

With the assistance of Suboxone, a medication to treat opiate addiction, Hancock got sober. But that didn’t stop her mood swings. There were times when she slammed cabinets so hard they fell off their hinges.

Her husband, Ken Hancock, said the stroke and its aftermath nearly tore their family apart. At first, he just felt scared. For a while, his wife couldn’t wash her own hair or pick up their children. When she cooked, one of her hands shook.

A meditation book sits on Hancock’s living room table. After her stroke, she said she needs to find ways to calm herself down during stressful moments. (Heidi de Marco/KHN)

He concentrated on getting his wife to appointments and taking care of her and their children. But as she got better physically, he said, she became worse emotionally. The addiction didn’t help, and they argued frequently. “It was a terrible, terrible cycle,” he said. “It took a long time to realize better things were around the corner.”

Now, the family is in a better place, he said. Jamie Hancock sees a therapist and takes medication that is normally used to treat schizophrenia. The volatility has subsided.

Ken Hancock said his wife’s brain injury isn’t visible, but it’s there. “She is still trying to recover, and we are sort of in the same boat with her,” he said.


On a June afternoon, Hancock sat in her living room with another young stroke survivor, Jen Ruzicka Lee, an ER nurse and longtime runner who was stricken last year at age 43. Lee returned to nursing part-time in April, but she still stutters and uses a walker.

They laughed and nearly cried as they talked about the impact of different medications, becoming intimate with their husbands again and the daily guilt they felt about the effect of the strokes on their children.

Both women said they had attended a few stroke support groups but couldn’t relate to the older participants. “They would say, ‘You need to nap,” Hancock recounted. “That’s great, but I can’t. I have kids.”

Support groups and rehabilitation programs are typically designed for older adults, said Edmunds, the YoungStroke founder, who was hit by the disease at age 45. Many young stroke survivors have to figure out how to continue raising children and working while dealing with the effects of a stroke.

Hancock says she feels guilty about the stress her children have to endure due to the side effects of her stroke. (Heidi de Marco/KHN)

“It’s a different landscape for younger adults,” Edmunds said. “We need skills to help us get on with our lives post-stroke, which could conceivably be as long as pre-stroke.”

Hancock and Lee, along with two other women, have become an informal support network. They text often and meet for coffee when they can. This month, they had a family barbecue.

Being a young stroke survivor, Hancock said, “is a whole different ballgame.”


Hancock tried to return to dancing soon after her stroke. She couldn’t do a single turn on the floor, and walked out in tears.

“I had to learn to walk again so I don’t know why I thought in my brain I could take an advanced dance class,” she said.

Over time, Hancock regained her strength. She said she doesn’t think her brain will ever be able to handle a 40-hour work week. Teaching dance part-time can even be too tiring some days.

On this evening, however, Hancock energetically stepped into a brightly lit dance studio. She and five young students warmed up to music. Hancock instructed them to run through the dance routine they had practiced the previous night.

“Let’s see what you remember,” she said.

Then she smiled. “Let’s see what I remember, too.”

KHN’s coverage in California is funded in part by Blue Shield of California Foundation.


Monday, August 22, 2016

Developing Resilience: A Mother's Perspective

The following article is taken from an article posted on an American Heart Association website. I encourage you to visit their site,, and the site where this article written by Carol Dow Richards was first published. 

Carol Dow Richards

“Your child has had a stroke.” Those words are hard to fathom — and just the beginning of a long road to recovery. It requires entire families to adjust to many challenges — and not just those faced by their child.

In 1995 when my son David had a stroke at 10, my first thought was one of denial. Surely, we’d be out of the hospital in no time and he would be back to normal. Didn’t modern-day doctors “fix” these things?

I learned, as time passed, that we were not to be out of the hospital for nearly three months. And David never returned to the “old David.” We now had the “new David” — a 10-year-old who could no longer read or speak, as he now had significant aphasia. He was in a wheelchair. His arm was limp.

He’d been in the gifted program — and now moved to special education. His heart — and mine — had been broken. Hopes and dreams changed on that dreadful day.

That was nearly 20 years ago. David navigated the course of puberty, depression, school challenges. Our family learned to manage on one income. His brother had to grow up fast — as I was rarely home for nearly three years — as we navigated David through intense rehabilitation. In some ways my husband lost his wife, as I was 100 percent a mom on a mission: Help my son. David went to therapy for the next 15 years.

Today, David and I volunteer at a nonprofit we started, The Aphasia Recovery Connection. We connect families dealing with the devastation of aphasia. We also have several Facebook group sites, including one just for kids with stroke and aphasia, ARC Kids with Aphasia (0-18), where we connect families, offer tips, and help others navigate the journey.
As I look back over those difficult years, I think there are three main pieces of advice I would offer parents.

First, learn the rights of students in the educational system. Students are afforded a free and appropriate public education in the United States. What was appropriate prestroke may not be now. David’s aphasia was so significant that by high school, he needed to attend a boarding school with significant therapy services for his aphasia. Had I not known the laws, I would not have known how to advocate for my son. Parents need to advocate for their child.

David’s recovery is a testament to his mother’s dedication. Today, both Carol and David are devoted advocates for stroke awareness.
Second, maintaining self-esteem and hope is so important. Kids at school can be cruel — and it is easy for these kids to fall into depression and loneliness. Every night as David fell asleep, I would whisper in his ear, “I am getting stronger, I am improving. I will improve day by day. I’m still smart.” He needed to believe that. I often felt that maintaining David’s self esteem was really my biggest job.

Lastly, take care of yourself. I remember one day at the hospital looking into a mirror. Who was that woman? I thought as I realized I had stopped taking care of me. I was pale and lifeless. It was at that moment that I reached into my purse and added some color to my lips — and tried so desperately to put a bounce back into my step. This challenges you to your core — but you have to believe in resiliency. And believe that yes, you CAN do this.

Deep inside each of us, we are resilient. Children are resilient. Parents are resilient. And we can indeed adjust to the new “normal.” It may be painful, horrific at times, but each day, we need to lead. With strength. And courage. And set the example for our children. No matter what life brings.

This information is provided as a resource to our readers. The tips, products or resources listed have not been reviewed or endorsed by the American Stroke Association.

Copyright is owned or held by the American Heart Association,Inc., and all rights are reserved. Permission is granted, at no cost and without need for further request, to link to, quote, excerpt or reprint from these stories in any medium as long as no text is altered and proper attribution is made to the American Heart Association News. See full terms of use.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Part 2 - History of Stroke

The following is a re-post from the stroknet newsletter The original post can be found on

There are several links to more information included in this article. If you click on any words in red or blue they will take you to more detail.

Written by Rachel Nall, RN, BSN, CCRN
Medically Reviewed by University of Illinois-Chicago, College of Medicine on March 21, 2016
Advancements in Stroke Treatments
TPA is the preferred treatment method for ischemic strokes. However, an emerging treatment for these types of strokes is the Mechanical Embolus Removal in Cerebral Ischemia (MERCI) retriever. This device can physically remove a blood clot in someone having an ischemic stroke. Since its first use in 2001, the MERCI retriever has treated approximately 10,000 people. However, the drawback is that many surgeons still need to be trained in its use, and hospitals need to purchase the equipment, which can be very expensive. While TPA is still the most commonly used treatment for ischemic strokes, the MERCI retriever may increase in popularity as more surgeons become trained in its use.

Hemorrhagic stroke treatments have also come a long way. If the effects of a hemorrhagic stroke affect a large portion of the brain, doctors may recommend surgery in an attempt to reduce long-term damage and relieve pressure on the brain. Surgical treatments for hemorrhagic stroke include: 

Surgical clipping: This operation involves placing a clip to the base of the area causing the bleeding. The clip stops the blood flow and helps prevent the area from bleeding again. 

Coiling: This procedure involves guiding a wire through the groin and up to the brain while inserting small coils to fill areas of weakness and bleeding. This can potentially stop any bleeding. 

Surgical removal: If the area of bleeding can’t be repaired through other methods, a surgeon may move a small section of the damaged area. However, this surgery is often a last resort because it is considered very high risk and can’t be performed on many areas of the brain.

Other treatments may be required, depending on the location and severity of the bleeding.

Advancements in Stroke Prevention
While stroke continues to be a leading cause of disability, approximately 80 percent of strokes are preventable. Thanks to recent research and advancements in treatment, doctors can now recommend prevention strategies for those who are at risk of having a stroke. Known risk factors for stroke include: 

being over age 75

having atrial fibrillation
having congestive heart failure
having diabetes
having high blood pressure
having a history of stroke or transient ischemic attack

People who have these risk factors should talk to their doctor about how they can lower their risk for stroke. Doctors often recommend taking the following preventive measures:
quitting smoking
taking anticoagulant medications to prevent blood clotting
taking medications to control high blood pressure or diabetes
eating a healthy diet low in sodium and rich in fruits and vegetables
exercising three to four days a week for at least 40 minutes a day

While a stroke can’t always be prevented, taking these steps can help to minimize your risk as much as possible.

The Takeaway
A stroke is a life-threatening medical event that can cause lasting brain damage and long-term disabilities. Seeking treatment immediately can increase the likelihood that you or a loved one receive one of the innovative treatments used to treat stroke and minimize complications.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Part 1 - History of Stroke

The following is a re-post from the stroknet newsletter The original post can be found on

Written by Rachel Nall, RN, BSN, CCRN
Medically Reviewed by University of Illinois-Chicago, College of Medicine on March 21, 2016
A stroke can be a devastating medical occurrence. It happens when blood flow to a portion the brain is impaired due to a blood clot or broken blood vessel. Much like a heart attack, the lack of oxygen-rich blood can lead to tissue death. When brain cells begin to die as a result of the reduced blood flow, symptoms occur in the parts of the body that those brain cells control. These symptoms can include sudden weakness, paralysis, and numbness of the face or limbs. As a result, people who experience a stroke may have difficulty thinking, moving, and even breathing.

Though doctors now know the causes and implications of a stroke, the condition hasn’t always been well-understood. Hippocrates, the “father of medicine,” first recognized stroke more than 2,400 years ago. He called the condition apoplexy, which is a Greek term that stands for “struck down by violence.” While the name described the sudden changes that can occur with a stroke, it didn’t necessarily convey what is actually happening in the brain.

Centuries later, in the 1600s, a doctor named Jacob Wepfer discovered that something disrupted the blood supply in the brains of people who died from apoplexy. In some of these cases, there was massive bleeding into the brain. In others, the arteries were blocked.

In the decades that followed, medical science continued to make advances concerning the causes, symptoms, and treatment of apoplexy. One result of these advancements was the division of apoplexy into categories based on the cause of the condition. After this, apoplexy became known by such terms as stroke and cerebral vascular accident (CVA).

Today, doctors know that two types of stroke exist: an ischemic and a hemorrhagic stroke. An ischemic stroke, which is more common, occurs when a blood clot lodges in the brain. This blocks blood flow to various areas of the brain. A hemorrhagic stroke, on the other hand, happens when an artery in the brain breaks open. This causes blood to accumulate in the brain. The severity of the stroke is often related to the location in the brain and to the number of brain cells affected.

According to the National Stroke Association, stroke is the 5th-leading cause of death in the United States. However, an estimated 7 million people in America have survived a stroke. Thanks to advancements in treatment methods, millions of people who’ve experienced a stroke can now live with fewer complications.
History of Stroke Treatments

History of Stroke Treatments
One of the earliest known stroke treatments occurred in the 1800s, when surgeons began performing surgery on the carotid arteries. These are the arteries that supply much of the blood flow to the brain. Clots that develop in the carotid arteries are often responsible for causing a stroke. Surgeons began operating on the carotid arteries to reduce cholesterol buildup and remove blockages that could then lead to a stroke. The first documented carotid artery surgery in the United States was in 1807. Dr. Amos Twitchell performed the surgery in New Hampshire. Today, the procedure is known as a carotid endarterectomy.

While carotid artery surgeries certainly helped to prevent stroke, there were few treatments available to actually treat a stroke and reduce its effects. Most treatments were more focused on helping people manage any difficulties after a stroke, such as speech impairments, eating problems, or lasting weakness on one side of the body. It wasn’t until 1996 that a more effective treatment was implemented. During that year, the United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of tissue plasminogen activator (TPA), a medication that breaks up the blood clots that cause ischemic strokes.

Though TPA can be effective in treating ischemic strokes, it must be administered within 4.5 hours after symptoms begin. As a result, receiving prompt medical attention for a stroke is vital to reducing and reversing its symptoms. If someone you know is experiencing symptoms of a stroke, such as sudden confusion and weakness or numbness on one side of the body, take them to the hospital or call 911 immediately.
Next week I will continue this article in Part 2 with advancements in treatment and prevention.