More Young Women Having Strokes

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Strokes Hit Young Adults, Too

When the medics arrived, they asked her what year it was, and Maureen replied, "1986." She was unconscious by the time they secured her in the ambulance.

A CT scan at Virginia Mason Hospital showed a large blood clot and dangerous buildup of fluid. To relieve pressure, neurosurgeon Farrokh Farrokhi, M.D., drilled three holes into her skull and placed a tube in her brain. He then performed a craniotomy to clean the blood from her brain. "If someone over 65 came in with such a severe stroke in that area of the brain, the textbook answer would be not to operate," he says, "because the chance for survival is so slim and the chance for functional survival even less. But she was young and had a brand-new baby. We had to at least try."

Four days post-surgery, Maureen remained in a coma. "In most cases, a stroke patient should regain some function within 24 to 72 hours of surgery," says Farrokhi. Maureen had a hemorrhagic stroke, in which blood escapes from the arteries and floods the brain, acting as kryptonite to neurons, obliterating them instantly. Her stroke was so explosive that it pushed her brain from one side of her skull to the other. The doctor told her family she had a 3 percent chance of surviving. And if she did, it was unlikely she'd ever walk again. Or talk. Or cradle her baby in her arms.

On the fifth day, however, Jeanne brought Maureen's Chihuahua, Cody, into the ICU and laid him on her sister's belly. "She stroked him with her thumb," says Jeanne. Hours later she opened her eyes. "It was a freakin' miracle." A few days after that, she said her first word: "Hi."

Maureen spent the next two and a half months in the hospital, and months longer at home, relearning the simplest of tasks. Eventually, her family moved her back to New York City, her hometown, where she lives with her mother. Simone lives with Jeanne, also in New York, during the week, and Maureen sees her on weekends.

Sitting across a table from Maureen, more than three years after the stroke, she seems perfectly fine. Her conversation is lively; her wit rapier sharp. But she continues to suffer from severe short-term memory loss, chronic dizziness, and debilitating exhaustion. She still struggles in a world that often feels unfamiliar, with sounds that have become too loud, lights that are too bright, and rooms that have too many people in them to process.

Her long-term pre-stroke memory is vivid, yet she has no recollection of any aspect of her stroke. She doesn't remember giving birth to Simone, or her daughter's first step or first words. "I wasn't there for her during those critical years of her life," says Maureen. "We can't get those years back."

The damage caused by her stroke may have been worsened considerably by one fact: Most everyone she came in contact with, including medical professionals, assumed that her symptoms were just those of brand-new motherhood. "I think if someone with neurological experience had seen her, the fact that she was having speech difficulties would have clued them in that this wasn't a fatigue issue," says Farrokhi.

"Misplacing and using nonsensical words suggests brain damage."

***

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