MINOR STROKE CAPTURED ON VIDEO: WATCH AS IT HAPPENS
On April 2, 2014, while driving home from work, Stacey Yepes sensed a stroke coming on. She pulled over, pulled out her smartphone and recorded what was happening so others could see. (UHNToronto/YouTube)
UPDATE: Stacey Yepes' stroke 'selfie' video goes viral
Settled in for the evening on her couch watching TV, 49-year-old Stacey Yepes suddenly felt the left side of her body go numb.
Her face froze.
"Strokes can affect people of any age even if they have few risk factors, so it's very important to be aware and to know the signs of a stroke."
-Dr. Cheryl Jaigobin
Then, the phone rang. She managed to answer, but slurred her words and couldn't speak properly.
The public service announcements for the signs of stroke flashed through Yepes' mind.
"Is this what's happening to me?" she thought.
Five minutes later, the symptoms subsided and Yepes felt normal again. Shaken by the experience, she went to her local emergency room and get checked out.
Tests run at the hospital were clear. She was told that the episode was most likely a result of stress and was given some tips on how to better manage the symptoms.
Yepes wasn't convinced.
"It's true that I hadn't slept well the last few days and that I have a stressful job," said Yepes, who works as a legal secretary. "But I was pretty sure that the symptoms I had experienced were due to a stroke."
Even as Yepes was exiting the hospital that day, she felt that strange numbing sensation return. It passed quickly. She went home and even went to work the next day.
Video: 'I don't know why this is happening to me'
Two days after her initial episode, while driving home from work, Yepes suddenly felt the left side of her body going numb again.
She pulled over as the symptoms returned full force. Then, she had the presence of mind to pull out her smartphone and film herself to show a doctor what she was experiencing.
"My tongue feels very numb," she said in the recording as the left side of her face starts to droop.
Yet again, the symptoms passed and Yepes felt normal. She had now experienced three of these events and was increasingly worried.
She went to another hospital for a second opinion. The symptoms she described and the video was enough for staff to suspect a minor stroke.
Yepes was referred to the stroke unit of the Krembil Neuroscience Centre (KNC) at Toronto Western Hospital (TWH) – the stroke centre of care of the west region of Toronto.
Because Yepes' episodes had been short and had passed each time, she had most likely experienced a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or what's known as a "mini-stroke."
Warning sign of more serious stroke
TIAs are caused by blood clots and the only difference between a TIA and a full blown stroke is that the TIA is usually temporary. However, they are no less serious as TIAs are considered a warning that a more serious stroke could happen.
TWH has Toronto's only day unit to treat TIAs and minor strokes. Called the Transient Ischemic Attack and Minor Stroke (TAMS) Unit, it is dedicated to assessing patients at high risk for stroke and providing them with the necessary interventions to prevent them.
Traditionally, patients suffering from a TIA or minor stroke who arrive at a hospital emergency room are either discharged and referred to a stroke prevention clinic or admitted to hospital – averaging a stay of up to three days.
The stroke team at the KNC identified a more effective way of treating these patients by creating a unit that rapidly assesses them in a single day.
KNC's TAMS Unit: Assessment, resources, treatment
Yepes' assessment showed she had suffered a small stroke due to a small blockage in one of the arteries supplying her brain.
Further tests confirmed that this was caused by atherosclerosis – or the build-up of plaque in the artery supplying the area of her brain injured in her stroke.
Although relieved to have confirmed the cause of her symptoms, Yepes thought she had been leading a relatively healthy lifestyle and was surprised to have suffered a stroke at such a young age.
But her neurologist, Dr. Cheryl Jaigobin, noted that it's not uncommon for young people to suffer a stroke.
"Strokes can affect people of any age even if they have few risk factors, so it's very important to be aware and to know thesigns of a stroke," said Jaigobin.
"There are recent studies that indicate that the incidence of stroke in young patients is increasing. Risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes and elevated cholesterol are now seen in younger patients," she continued. "These findings are reflected in the patients we see in our stroke program. We treat many patients with stroke that occur at a young age."
Jaigobin also recommends that people get their blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked and be screened for diabetes when they go for their annual check-up.
"My advice to others is, if you think you're having or had a stroke, don't wait. Go to the hospital and get checked out." –Stacey Yepes
"Everyone should be proactive about their health and aware of any changes as they age, especially people with a family history of stroke or heart disease," she said.
During her assessment in the TAMS unit, Yepes was engaged in her own care and partnered with nurse practitioner Anne Cayley for ongoing education and to develop a treatment plan to prevent any more strokes.
Yepes was also referred to an outpatient rehabilitation program to regain strength and improve the function of her left arm. She is slowly but surely adjusting to this altered lifestyle and, like many stroke survivors, is expected to return to a normal life.
"I thought I was leading a healthy lifestyle, but since I work two jobs I had a lot of stress in my life, was often eating on the go and didn't have time to exercise regularly," she said. "The TAMS Unit has really taught me a new way of living and how to address these areas so I don't have another stroke."
Though she suffered three separate events, she is fortunate they only affected a small area of her brain and she wasn't left paralyzed or with impaired speech. But had she dismissed those initial symptoms, the outcome could have been much worse.
"I've since learned that a person's greatest chances to return to pre-stroke strength is within the first three months after their stroke, so my quick reaction to my symptoms to get treatment is contributing to my recovery," said Yepes. "My advice to others is, if you think you're having or had a stroke, don't wait. Go to the hospital and get checked out."
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