Never Ignore the Signs: A Young Stroke Survivor’s Lesson
According to the National Stroke Association, the risk of stroke nearly doubles for every decade a person is alive after age 55. However, this doesn’t mean that younger people are immune. A stroke can strike anyone, at any age, for a multitude of reasons. Take it from Fraser Phibbs, who experienced a stroke at just 38 years old.
As an artistic and structural welder, Fraser is accustomed to thinking with both the logical and creative sides of his brain. He is the owner of Heavy Metal Welding, a local welding company, and is regularly tasked with creating abstract and animal-themed metal sculptures.
Fraser and his wife, Maribeth (Mare), enjoy traveling together, kayaking, mountain biking and cross country skiing. Mare is a real estate agent and a yoga instructor. And while they don’t have any children yet, Nelson, their labradoodle, is the perfect “fur baby” to complete their home right now.
Overlooked Warning Signs
One Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2016 (day 1), Fraser came home after a long day of work. “I had a headache, so I made dinner and then went straight to bed,” he recalled. And on Wednesday (day 2), he carried out another full day of work, still feeling a bit off. When Mare arrived home on Wednesday evening, she noticed that he was slurring his speech. “Fraser wasn’t making much sense, but I just thought he may have had a beer or two,” said Mare. For the second night in a row, Fraser assured her that he was fine, but headed to bed early.
Fraser doesn’t haven’t a record of complaining much, so Mare began to worry that he was feeling worse than he was letting on. “He wasn’t acting like himself. It was August and we were experiencing 95 degree temperatures. With working outside, it crossed my mind that maybe he had suffered heatstroke,” said Mare.
Then during the middle of the second night, Fraser woke Mare up out of her sleep. He was feeling kind of sick, and strange, but couldn’t articulate what was wrong. He had never felt this way before. Mare wanted to call 9-1-1, but Fraser resisted any medical help.
By the time they woke up on the morning of day three, Fraser’s speech was no longer comprehendible. Mare insisted on driving him to the emergency room immediately. “It was confusing. On the way to the hospital, I asked him to squeeze my hand and he couldn’t even do it,” explained Mare. “But he was still coherent. For example, once we got in the car, he even went back in the house to grab his keys.”
Read more about stroke patient journeys.
Startling Test Results
They reached ProMedica Toledo Hospital's emergency center where Fraser underwent a series of tests, including a CT scan. “I couldn’t even recall my own name or touch my own nose at the time,” said Fraser.
The results that came back from his CT scan were unforeseen and frightening. There was a large blood clot in an artery leading to his brain, and he had suffered an ischemic stroke.
Stroke treatments are most effective when administered immediately following a stroke, and some can only be given within a specified time window. For example, tPA (tissue plasminogen activator), the only FDA-approved stroke treatment, can only be given through an IV within 3-4 hours following a stroke. In Fraser’s case, 2-3 days may have passed, so it was initially challenging for the medical staff to make a treatment decision.
Mare called Fraser’s dad, Garth Phibbs, MD, ProMedica Physicians Gynecology Oncology, who was right upstairs at Toledo Hospital. Dr. Phibbs knew that Fraser was at the best place he could be for his serious circumstances.
In fact, Toledo Hospital is Toledo’s first Comprehensive Stroke Center, certified by The Joint Commission and American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. This means that the hospital meets the highest standards for treating the most serious stroke cases.
Mouhammad Jumaa, MD, interventional vascular neurologist for ProMedica Stroke Network, performed a clot evacuating procedure called a mechanical thrombectomy on Fraser. According to Fraser, “He was very calm. When the surgery started, he told me to just relax and I’ll do everything I can to make you better.” As soon as the clot was removed, he could already feel himself getting better.
After staying in the hospital for ten days, Fraser was soon able to get back to living his life. He is lucky to be alive, and his youth may have contributed to his successful recovery. The more time that passes between having a stroke and receiving treatment, the more likely brain damage is to occur.
“I am so thankful for Dr. Jumaa and our stroke physician assistant, Melinda Hendricks-Jones. Dr. Jumaa’s willingness to look at my case at a point where everyone thought I was beyond treatment was amazing. He saved my life,” said Fraser.
The Underlying Cause
Following his stroke, Fraser was diagnosed with antiphospholipid antibody syndrome (APS), an autoimmune disorder which puts him at higher risk for blood clots. With medication, the care of his doctors, regular blood work and some healthy lifestyle changes, he feels secure in managing his condition and preventing any future strokes.
Fraser’s biggest piece of advice after going through this scary experience is to, “Follow your gut. If your body is telling you something, you need to listen. And if you don’t feel well, just get yourself checked out.”
While it’s important to be aware of the stroke risk factors and to manage the ones you can control, being able to recognize the signs of a stroke is crucial. The most effective stroke treatment is fast treatment. Learn more about stroke by visiting promedica.org/stroke.