Nov. 14, 2015 started out like any other Saturday for Meghan McKee. She took a spin class in the morning, enjoyed a lunch date with her boyfriend, Steven, and took a stroll through downtown Winston-Salem. But everything changed that evening when McKee reached for a water bottle and her hand slapped the nightstand like dead weight.
When Steven walked into the bedroom, he quickly realized that something was wrong when the left side of his girlfriend’s face was drooping, and her left foot seemed to be dragging behind her as she walked. He called 911.
“While I think the awareness of stroke signs and symptoms is better in the local community than it was a few decades ago, it is still not as universally recognized as many other common and emergent health conditions,” said Dr. Joshua Long, a family medicine physician at Novant Health Mountainview Medical in King. “The emergent need for recognition (of stroke symptoms) is because in the event of quick recognition, treatment exists that can work to reverse the damage before it becomes permanent.”
“This treatment, typically with a medicine that opens and restores blood flow to the part of the brain that is affected, has to be given within the first several hours of onset of the symptoms,” Long added. “It is only available at the hospital, so if one has these symptoms, they need to be evaluated there quickly.”
On the way to the hospital, McKee recalls the emergency medical technician (EMT) telling her that she was probably having a stroke. She remembers feeling terrified and thinking, “I am only 31 years old and healthy – there’s no way that I am having a stroke.”
Doctors at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center ran tests and confirmed several blood clots in McKee’s brain. The stroke team administered the clot-busting medication TPA and later that evening, Dr. Donald Heck, the director of interventional neuroradiology removed the blood clots surgically via a catheter-based approach known as thrombectomy.
While in the hospital, medical tests also discovered that McKee suffered from a hole in the heart (known as patent foramen ovale, or PFO), that had increased her risk for stoke. Four days after her thrombectomy, doctors repaired her heart to lower her risk for a future stroke.
Today, at 33, McKee is married to the man who called 911 and probably saved her life. The couple lives in Charlotte where McKee works as a physical therapy supervisor. Except for that fact that her left hand is not quite as coordinated as it once was, she has experienced a full recovery.
When reflecting on her experience and how it changed her, McKee said the stroke has made her a better therapist. “I am really able to connect with stroke patients that I work with on a level that would not be possible had I not gone through this experience,” she said.
McKee has also become an advocate for stroke awareness and has shared her story with local media, at stroke survivor events, and as part of American Heart Association outreach events.
“I cannot think of a better way to turn my experience into something positive,” said McKee. “I want to help others recognize the signs of stroke and realize that it can occur in anyone, regardless of age.”
As a medical professional, McKee knew the signs of stroke but could not recognize them in herself because of the part of her brain that was affected by the stroke. “I am so thankful that Steven knew the signs and reacted as quickly as he did,” said McKee. “Or my story would have had a very different ending.”
McKee stressed the importance of everyone understanding the signs and symptoms of stroke. “FAST is an acronym to help detect stroke,” she said. The acronym stands for: Facial drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulties and Time.
If you think someone may be having a stroke, act F.A.S.T. and complete this simple test:
F – FACE: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
A – ARMS: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S – SPEECH: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?
T – TIME: If you observe any of these signs, call 911 immediately.