Kids Have Strokes More Often Than Thought

Children and teens can have strokes, but doctors don't always recognize it.

ByABC News
September 17, 2009, 6:25 PM

Sept. 18, 2009 — -- By all accounts, Brendon Spear was a healthy newborn. But some subtly abnormal behavior made his mother, Jessica Spear, think twice.

"At two weeks, he couldn't turn his head to the right. At two months, he was clearly left-handed," Spear said. "He was walking at 13 months but was falling because he couldn't pick up his right foot. He would go in circles."

Spear, who lives in St. Louis, took Brendon for several examinations, and finally, when he was 19 months old, to a neurologist for a brain scan. She learned that Brendon had the neuromuscular disorder cerebral palsy -- due to a stroke he had suffered in the uterus.

"It was devastating because one, you never hear of stroke in children, and two, it took so long to get a diagnosis," Spear said.

"I thought, 'why the heck didn't someone tell me this long before now?' We would have had a diagnosis at six months and Brendon would not be denied the therapies he needed... I felt very isolated as a parent."

Although cases of pediatric stroke are rare, stroke occurs with two to four times more frequency in children and teenagers than was previously thought, according to a new study just published online in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Prior estimates for rates of childhood stroke were between 0.54 and 1.2 cases per 100,000 children in the U.S. But analysis of 2.3 million children's hospital records in California by researchers at the University of California at San Francisco showed the rate of childhood stroke to be 2.4 cases per 100,000 children.

Researchers felt the higher rate of pediatric stroke was due to improper coding or typing errors in medical records.

"The number of times someone has said to me, 'We didn't think it was a stroke because it was a child,' is legend," said Dr. Ian Butler, director of the Division of Child and Adolescent Neurology at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston.

Vinette Harris said doctors were surprised when her 15-year-old son Paul Meikle, an avid athlete who played football, basketball and ran track, landed in the emergency room this summer with slurred speech and a drooping left eye.