Luke Perry’s death following a “massive stroke” stunned and shocked many of us.
His fans, particularly those who are middle-aged, are left wondering how someone so young could have a stroke.
While we often associate stroke with the elderly, it isn’t always the case. About 10 percent of stroke cases are in young people between the ages of 18 and 50. And when younger people have strokes, it’s usually for different reasons; the most common cause being a dissection, when a blood vessel tears, causing a clot that subsequently cuts off blood to part of the brain.
Eric Morris was one of those people — he had a stroke at 41.
The Brookline, New Hampshire resident is now 44, but Eric remembers the day of his stroke quite vividly.
Eric’s family was getting ready for work and school in the morning. In the shower, Eric recalls a “weird sneeze or cough.”
“I got out of the shower and didn’t feel great,” he said. “Then I was in the bedroom, putting on my clothes, and I fell into the closet.”
What followed were telltale signs of stroke: The right side of Eric’s body wasn’t working. When he tried to speak, words came out as nonsense. Still, his face did not droop at all. It was a confusing onset of symptoms, despite having a previous health scare in 2013 when Eric had a brain aneurysm rupture.
“It didn’t hurt,” Eric said. There was no headache and he didn’t feel nauseous as he did when the aneurysm burst.
His wife found him in bed a few minutes later.
“When my wife saw me, she knew it was a stroke,” Eric said.
He followed a healthy diet and exercised with regularity. Two factors that raise a person’s stroke risk are poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle.
On the morning of the stroke, paramedics arrived who had coincidentally received stroke training two weeks earlier.
Eric was taken to a local hospital in New Hampshire, where he was given the tPA injection to dissolve the blood clot on his brain. A half hour later, Eric was en route to Lahey Hospital & Medical Center in Burlington, Mass. for specialized stroke care.
After a week in the hospital, a surgery and numerous scans of his brain, Eric is back to normal. There are lingering effects of the stroke but they are so small the average person doesn’t notice.
Sometimes Eric feels strange sensations on his right side, similar to the pins and needles feeling that comes with an arm or leg falling asleep. And there are times he notices that words are more difficult to recall.
Still, Eric is fortunate. He can exercise, play sports and continue his career path.
Angelia Russell, RN-BSN, the stroke nurse coordinator at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center, said young people need to be more vigilant when it comes to identifying and acting on stroke symptoms.
The acronym for stroke symptoms is BE-FAST – Balance, Eyes (loss of vision), Face (drooping), Arm (weakness), Speech (slurred or garbled) and Time.
Young people are quick to dismiss symptoms and time is of the essence in treating a stroke. The longer you wait, the more severe the effects.
Some of the lesser known ailments that may signal an onset of stroke are a persistent stiff neck or one limb falling asleep. If this happens to you during the night, Russell recommends you check to see if both limbs can be easily lifted.
“If you experience some of these symptoms, call 911 right away,” she said. “Anyone, any age can have a stroke, and it’s important to know the signs.”
For more information on strokes, including warning signs and treatment, visit the Lahey Hospital & Medical Center Stroke Center.