Thursday, December 08, 2016


How My Sister Saved Her Own Life and Acted F-A-S-T

It was 1:50 p.m. “Ten til two,” said Gayle when the emergency room physicians asked her what time the episode occurred. She knew the time because she had a hair appointment and the boys, who had borrowed her car, planned to pick her up at 2:00. She had ten minutes to get ready, and the so-called episode began as she brushed her teeth.

“With my face bowed toward the sink and a toothbrush in my mouth, suddenly it felt as though my teeth were crumbling,” she recounted. “It was the oddest feeling, and actually, one of my worse nightmares.” Gayle raised her head to look in the mirror at her teeth and immediately noticed that the right side of her face had fallen. She then tried to bring her hand to her face, but she couldn’t lift it. Her arm would not function.

F. Face
A. Arms
S. Speech
T. Time to Call 9-1-1

FAST. This is an acronym for stroke. And Gayle knew it. Just a couple days earlier she had heard a program aired on NPR about stroke awareness and the acronym came to her at once. Thankfully she knew exactly where her cell phone was—on the charger in the kitchen—and she called 9-1-1. That’s when her legs gave out and she sat on the kitchen floor for ten minutes until the paramedics arrived. Her boys showed up at 2:00 as planned, and by this point, her speech had disintegrated to garble.

Yes, it was a full-blown stroke.

The FAST acronym is what everyone needs to know initially about how to detect a stroke and what to do, which is to immediately call 9-1-1. The victim’s FACE falls or smile becomes uneven.  She either can’t lift her ARMS or one is weaker than the other. She is unable to speak or her SPEECH is slurred. TIME is of the essence.

Why? If a stroke is detected within three hours, doctors can issue a treatment called tPA, which is a super clot-buster drug. This medicine can mean the difference between life and death, or between full recovery and severe disability. Unfortunately, according to the American Academy of Neurology, 14 percent of strokes occur while people are sleeping and they have no idea what time they happened. These are known as “wake-up strokes.” If you wear a Fit-Bit, it may record the episode; however, tPA administered after three hours may prove to be fatal.

So don’t wait, thinking your smile will straighten or that you’re just having some kind of dizzy spell. Thankfully, Gayle received the tPA, which broke up a big clot in her brain, straightened her face and corrected her speech. She looks perfectly normal now, the beautiful girl we have always known her to be. Her speech is clear, however, it’s quite slow and she often loses her train of thought or struggles to find the right word to complete a sentence. It’s impossible to say if this will go away or if this is her new normal as a result of the brain injury.

What exactly is a stroke?
A stroke is a “brain attack” and it can kill you. In the United States, stroke is the number one cause of death and disability. African-American and Hispanics are at higher risk, and while more men have strokes, more women die from them each year. Chances of stroke increase with age, but one in four stroke victims are under the age of 65.

My sister was 54. And it’s important to note, she was otherwise healthy. Do take note of the risk factors, however, which include: family history, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, poor circulation, Atrial fibrillation, obesity and lack of exercise.

Eighty-five percent of strokes are “ischemic,” brought on by a blocked artery. Another type is a “hemorrhagic” stroke, which occurs when an artery bursts and causes brain bleeding. Gayle had neither. She had a clot form in her brain, which the tPA broke up, and an installed heart monitor indicated her heart was not the source of the clot. She, therefore, had what’s known as a “cryptogenic stroke,” which means the cause is unknown, and they usually affect people under the age of 55. While that’s not exactly comforting, research has indicated that these type of strokes don’t often re-occur.

December in Lake Oswego, OR
Gayle is hoping to eventually make a full recovery, but for now, she is dealing with the effects. She cannot work. She cannot drive. She can’t eat in restaurants or be in noisy atmospheres because the cacophony triggers migraines. She wears noise-cancelling headphones 24 hours a day and talks about her daily headache as if it’s her right arm. Because Gayle is a middle school teacher, it’s highly unlikely she’ll be able to return to a full, noisy classroom anytime soon—if ever. She’s looking into a one-on-one tutoring position hopefully available in the Portland School District next fall and having to make due with 60 percent salary while on disability. Makes it tough to cover the mortgage, not to mention the expenses of three kids in college.

Her friend Molly started a Gofundme page, enabling friends to make donations of any size to help get her through this recovery. Please know Gayle is very touched by your donations as well as all your warm wishes and prayers. She urged me to write this piece to help give back to you with information, citing that her knowledge of the FAST acronym is what saved her life.

So now you know it. Please share this information and help save your own or someone else’s life. And if you would like to donate to help Gayle, and I hope you will, here is the link:

Any amount is helpful. Thank you so much.