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Teen stroke survivor calls for change, awareness

I suffered a stroke at the age of 16. It changed my life forever.

“Determined,” “smart” and “caring” are just a few words my relatives use to describe me. My twin brother and I lost both our mother and father before we turned 11; however, I found my happy place on the volleyball court, even in difficult times.

July 14, 2018, began as a normal day. While doing what I love most with my team at a Youngstown State University volleyball camp, my coach noticed something was off. I typically push through anything coming my way, especially in volleyball. My coach thought my odd behavior stemmed from dehydration or perhaps an ankle injury. When I began to slur my speech and was unable to move my arm, an ambulance was called, and I went to the hospital.

My aunt and uncle, my guardians since I was 7, received the call that I was experiencing a stroke. They were shocked. Never did they think a child could have a stroke. In fact, according to the American Heart Association, risk of stroke from birth through age 18 is slim to none — nearly 11 per 100,000 children a year.

A CT scan revealed that I had suffered a severe left-side stroke that damaged two-thirds of the left side of my brain. My family was told I would never walk, talk or comprehend anything again.

I was taken into surgery to undergo a craniotomy to relieve some of the pressure from my brain. My neurosurgeon was unsure if I would survive. After being on a ventilator for 10 days, I woke up July 24, 2018, unable to move my right arm and leg. When I smiled, there was no movement on the right side of my mouth. I was unable to speak, but I was able to respond to some commands to lift my left arm. I would soon undergo therapy for about six hours each day. Slowly, I made progress.

Several weeks after the stroke, with hard work and determination, I regained movement in my left leg and was able to respond to questions using pictures and to answer to yes or no to questions with my fingers.

Today, I talk and walk with very little assistance, and I am able to move my right arm. I continue to accomplish things that science never imagined I would do.

Medical professionals say strokes can happen to anyone, even healthy children. In most cases, there are no warning signs. During a stroke, every minute counts, which is why it is important for first responders to know and understand the warning signs.

The Ohio General Assembly is considering legislation, Senate Bill 302, which would improve emergency triage and transportation protocols for individuals suffering a stroke. Specifically, the protocols will help ensure patients suffering from the deadliest form of stroke — Emergent Large Vessel Occlusion (ELVO) — are taken directly to the hospital best-equipped to treat them. However, there are no Ohio laws that require paramedics to transport stroke patients directly to a comprehensive stroke center. Often, these patients are taken to the nearest hospital, which may not have capabilities to provide life-saving treatment. The patient is then transferred, delaying treatment and potentially jeopardizing recovery.

To rectify this issue, Senate Bill 302, unanimously passed by the Ohio Senate and currently under consideration in the House, would help ensure that patients afflicted with ELVO are transported to the hospital best-equipped to treat them and to save their lives. Senate Bill 302 builds upon Ohio’s initial progress when House Bill 464 was enacted into law in 2018, which established the state’s designation system for certifying stroke centers. Senate Bill 302 will improve the state’s system of care for stroke patients and save lives.

I continue to make strides in my recovery, and I hope my story will raise awareness of stroke, especially in children.

Lauren Thomas lives in East Liverpool with her Aunt Marla and Uncle Huck. They work to raise awareness of pediatric stroke through the Facebook group “Lauren Strong #Together.” Her motto is “Strong alone. Unstoppable together. We are Lauren Strong.”

columns@tribtoday.com

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