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Local author shares her story of recovering from a stroke

May is Stroke Awareness Month

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Sharon Watt

Local resident Sharon Watt is the author of a book called “Strokus; A Journey through Stroke and Recovery.”

It was not part of the plan. A stroke at 48, was not supposed to happen. I was active and health conscience, not the old feeble person that you typically think about as someone vulnerable to having a stroke.

I was not supposed to get PTSD because of a medical condition or wonder if I would ever be able to work or even walk again. I was put on a medication to lose weight under a physician’s supervision. Unfortunately, it made my blood pressure get very high. High enough that some days I was turned away from donating blood, but not high enough for the doctor to take me off of it. Then it happened.

I was alone, ripping up carpet in my bed room in the middle of the night. It was not unusual for me to tackle home projects at any hour day or night. So the massive hemorrhagic stroke hit me completely off guard on that cold February night of President’s Day. In fact, I didn’t even know that I had it.

It started with a headache that made me very tired and I fell asleep laying on the rolled up carpet that had yet to be taken out to the trash. I had been texting with my daughter, who was at college. I laid my cell phone on the dresser that had been moved to the center of the room and I fell asleep fast and soundly and awoke to vomiting. I tried to get up, but I was not able to. My hair was soaked with vomit. I called my dogs into the room with hopes that they would be able to help. They were more concerned about getting their heads rubbed and kissing my face than getting me up. My cell phone had been ringing and pinging, but it was too far away to reach so I went back to sleep. When I awoke again, the sun was coming into my room and I heard someone come in the front door. The dogs were barking.

Mom had come over to check on me along with two of my supervisors. My bosses called my mom when I didn’t show up or call in at work. They came upstairs and found me and tried to get me up, but then they realized that I didn’t have use of my left side and they called the EMS. When the ambulance arrived, my blood pressure was 200 over 100 and my speech was slurred, so they rushed me to the hospital.

I don’t really remember the ambulance ride, what happed in the ER, or what they said to me. I think I slept through most of the shuffling and tests. I remember that I was in at least three different rooms in the hospital and my sister drove in from Ohio, flew my daughter in and picked her up at the airport on her way to the hospital. It was great to have them both home to help Mom and Dad with my dogs and keep up with all of my movements in the hospital, ICU, step down and then a regular acute care room.

After a week of bouncing around the Christiana Hospital, I was moved to the Wilmington Hospital for the long road of rehabilitation. Following the rehab in Wilmington, there were several weeks with Mom and Dad with at home therapy, then months of PT before I could return to home, work, and some form of normalcy.

Strokes are funny like that. They do not care about age or race or health, but they do often affect the elderly and those with underlying conditions. They can affect anyone for a myriad of reasons; from high blood pressure to high cholesterol or an injury. Essentially, strokes interrupt blood flow and oxygen absorption in the brain.

May is National Stroke Awareness Month.

Recently, stroke and blood clots were added to the list of symptoms and repercussions of COVID-19, which brings them into the forefront of more people’s thoughts.

Strokes occur every day to people of all ages, races, and genders. Of course, if you look at statistics or talk to medical professionals, they will state that there are people more predisposed to strokes than others. Lifestyle choices and medical conditions also come into play when you assess the likelihood of having a stroke.

There are several kinds of strokes, which vary in severity from mild to massive. They occur in the brain and block or interrupt the blood flow to the brain, which supplies much needed oxygen and nutrients to keep it working.

Ischemic strokes are the most common and occur when a substance, like a piece of arterial plaque gets stuck and blocks the flow of blood in the brain. Mild Ischemic strokes are often referred to as TIAs (Transient Ischemic Attack), which are fairly common in older adults. These blockages can burst or can be cleared through surgery, if the person gets medical attention quickly. The blockages in an Ischemic stroke often cut the flow of oxygen off to the brain for so long, that brain cells are damaged. There are many things that can be done to minimize permanent damage, when the person receives prompt care.

Hemorrhagic strokes are sometimes referred to as “brain bleeds”, ICH, or Intracerebral Hemorrhage. They occur when a blood vessel, artery or vein bursts under pressure, often caused by high blood pressure. The blood flows directly into the brain and causes healthy brain cells to be damaged. Damage to the brain can also be caused by excess pressure built up in the brain following the hemorrhage.

The above are very basic explanations and more details about subcategories and causes of strokes can be found online or from a medical professional.

Several recent advertising campaigns have been focusing on stroke awareness and recognition. The main one that I have seen around New Castle County is the FAST Campaign, which describes several recognizable symptoms of a stroke.

F – Facial drop – One side to the face will not react or look the same as the other (one side will droop, much like Droopy the Dog from 1970s Saturday morning cartoons). The person may not be able to evenly smile.

A – Arm weakness – Not able to lift both arms in the same way. Ask the person to lift their arm to shoulder level. A person having a stroke will often not be able to lift them both the same.

S – Speech – Speech becomes slurred and person may have a difficult time speaking, as well as understanding other’s speech. Mental confusion is also a common sign of stroke.

T – Time – If any of the symptoms are present, call for help and get the person medical help immediately.

(This mnemonic was created by medical professionals in the UK in 1998.)

It is possible to survive and recover from a stroke, but the proper medical treatment and attention are essential.

Of course, the best option to avoid a stroke is to reduce the risk factors that contribute to stroke and maintain a healthy lifestyle with lots of exercise, a healthy diet, and regular medical exams.

As a friend or family member, the most important thing that you can do for someone that had a stroke is to be supportive and encouraging. Help as needed. Keep conversations happy and light. Encourage physical and mental healing. Stroke recovery can take from days to years, depending on the severity of the stroke and the health of the person that had it. A positive attitude toward recovery of any kind is helpful.

As a stroke survivor, there are several pieces of advice that I’d like to share:

One can recover, but it takes a lot of work, positivity, and help. A good physical therapist, occupational therapist, and psychotherapist do a lot of good.

Finding peace with the condition and state of mind should be a priority. PTSD, panic attacks, and other psychological issues can occur following a stroke. It’s important to find a good psychotherapist or psychologist to help work through fears or issues.

Local resident Sharon Watt is the author of a book called “Strokus: A Journey through Stroke and Recovery”(Amazon, 2019).

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