Strokes are the fifth leading cause of death for adults in the United States and the leading cause of disability. I know all of these stroke facts because I had to learn them the hard way.
What is a stroke
According to the National Stroke Association:
A stroke is a “brain attack”. It can happen to anyone at any time. It occurs when blood flow to an area of brain is cut off. When this happens, brain cells are deprived of oxygen and begin to die. When brain cells die during a stroke, abilities controlled by that area of the brain such as memory and muscle control are lost.
How a person is affected by their stroke depends on where the stroke occurs in the brain and how much the brain is damaged. For example, someone who had a small stroke may only have minor problems such as temporary weakness of an arm or leg. People who have larger strokes may be permanently paralyzed on one side of their body or lose their ability to speak. Some people recover completely from strokes, but more than 2/3 of survivors will have some type of disability.
What are the signs of stroke
This frightening experience has motivated me to use my story to help others. I am committed to spreading the word about stroke awareness. Please know the signs of stroke so you can take action:
- Face drooping
- Sudden loss of eyesight
- Sudden extreme headache
- Difficulty speaking
- Weakness and/or numbness on one side of the body
If you witness someone with these symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately. Do not delay because every second counts!
My story as a stroke survivor
In February 2019, one month after my 49th birthday, I suffered a stroke. I remember the night clearly. I was at home playing video games with my sons. After a round of Injustice 2 (I was slaughtering my oldest son, BTW), my vision went black. I couldn’t see a thing. Within a few seconds, my sight started to return, but it wasn’t one hundred percent. Initially, I thought the flashing lights from the video game had affected my eyes, I decided to lie down to see if a bit of rest might help. After a few hours, my sight was still impaired. I decided to wait things out overnight and go to the doctor in the morning if things hadn’t improved. In hindsight, that was a bad decision. I should have gone to the emergency room immediately.
The next day was Sunday, and I still couldn’t see properly. It was as if someone had blocked the left half of my line of vision. At that moment, I feared I was going blind. I scoured the internet for a while before I found an optometrist and was able to book an appointment.
After a 45-minute exam, the doctor referred me to a specialist because all of her tests were inconclusive. I had to wait yet another day to find out what was going on with my vision.
The next morning, my girlfriend drove me to the ophthalmologist because I still couldn’t see.
I spent nearly tw0-hours moving from machine to machine to test various parts of my eyes. Finally, the doctor came in a reviewed all of the data. He turned to me with a grim look on his face and said, “I think you’ve had a stroke. You need to go to the emergency room right now.”
I was shocked. It took a couple of minutes for my brain to fully process what the doctor had said to me. I couldn’t believe it. How could I possibly have had a stroke? Except for my eyesight, I felt perfectly fine. The doctor would tell I was taken aback by the news.
“You’ll be okay,” he said. “Go to Methodist Hospital. The doctors are experts in stroke care.”
His words were still lingering in the air as I struggled to come to terms with his preliminary diagnosis.
“Do you need me to call you an ambulance?” The doctor asked.
“No,” I said finally gaining my bearings. “I have someone to drive me.”
When I told my girlfriend the news, she was also in a state of shock. Her uncle was just released from the hospital after an episode with his blood pressure spiking and being on the verge of having a stroke.
We rushed to the emergency room and was quickly admitted. A CAT Scan and MRI confirmed that I had a stroke and a blood clot had affected the occipital lobe, the back part of the brain that is involved with vision.
I spent two days in the hospital undergoing a battery of tests to assess my physical and mental health. I also had to wear a topical heart monitor for 30 days after I was released.
The road to recovery
I have significantly changed my diet – no red meat (only fish and chicken), low-fat, low-sodium, no sugar or starches, more fruits and vegetables. I must admit that I’ve struggled to adjust to my new diet, I am from Texas after all – home of huge steaks, BBQ, and delicious Tex-Mex. However, I am committed to living a healthier lifestyle that includes eating better, mediation, and exercising more. Because of my new lifestyle, I have lost 10 pounds and I feel more energetic.
The saddest part of my story is that I could have prevented the stroke. I was well aware of the risk factors because my grandfather had a stroke and I had to care for him afterward. Unfortunately, I didn’t properly manage my blood pressure or cholesterol. I was also dealing with major stress in my personal and professional life. All of these factors converged and led to a dangerous health situation.
Now I’m forced to take a cocktail of medications (blood pressure, cholesterol, blood thinners) that are intended to control these conditions and help to reduce my risk of having another stroke.
Thank God my vision has returned and I didn’t suffer any physical disabilities. However, I have to meet regularly with my primary physician, cardiologist, neurologist, and ophthalmologist. This team of medical professionals monitors my overall health and keeps me on track to full recovery.
How to reduce the risk of stroke
African-American men are most at risk of suffering from a stroke. Learn your family medical history and visit your doctor regularly to monitor for risk factors such as:
- High Blood Pressure
- Atrial Fibrillation (AFib)
- High Cholesterol
- Circulation Problems
And as I mentioned earlier, making changes to your lifestyle can help to reduce your risk of stroke:
- Eat a healthy diet
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Exercise regularly
- Eliminate tobacco
- Reduce alcohol intake (No more than two drinks per day for men)
- Reduce stress
Up to 80 percent of strokes are preventable so it’s important to take steps to protect your health.