Marty's first stroke occurred in April of 2005. She had a ruptured aneurysm, a broken blood vessel in her brain which caused a subarachnoid hemorrhage also known in the medical world as really bad stuff. Marty was one of about 800,000 who had strokes that year, but only one of 3% that had a subarachnoid hemorrhage. Marty was lucky because most who have her type of stroke do not survive beyond six months. We're working on almost five years from the first stroke.
Her second stroke, January 3, 2006, was a more typical stroke, an ischemic stroke which comprises about 85% of all strokes. Again, Marty survived, though the 2nd stroke was the more physically and cognitively impairing of the two strokes. Stroke is the third leading killer in the United States killing approximately 140,000 people a year and the leading cause of incapacitation.
I never really thought about or understood the disabling aspect of strokes or how many people under 65 are affected by strokes. About 200,000 people under 65 are hit by strokes every year. It's not something we think of as a young person's disease, but it can be. Strokes change lives, not just for the person who has the stroke but for all of the families and friends of the stroke victim.
When Marty was training as a Speech Pathologist in Lubbock in the 70’s she worked with elderly stroke patients who had aphasia. We talked about it at the time and Marty often talked about how devastating this disease was for the patient and for the family. It never really registered with me. I never thought stroke would be a part of my life then.
I never really understood all of the underlying difficulties strokes cause. I never thought about the swallowing issues, I never thought about the talking issues, I never thought about the respiratory issues or the urinary tract infections. I never thought about the issues with dressing and bathing, I never thought about the transportation issues or the sleeping issues or any of the myriad difficulties people who have been affected by strokes must deal with every day. It just wasn't part of my plan so I didn't think about it. I'm just thankful I'm young enough, strong enough and we have the financial resources to care for Marty. She gets much better care than most.
The biggest risk factor for strokes -- high blood pressure, it's a big deal. Heart problems, diabetes, and genetics are all risk factors for stroke. Obesity, smoking, inactivity all contribute to strokes. Have your blood pressure checked, take your blood pressure medications, control your diabetes if you have it, don't smoke and exercise. I know all of these are easy to say and in some ways hard to do, but you don't want to have a stroke, you really, really don't.
Recovery from stroke is life long, it doesn’t end when you leave the rehabilitation facility, you are really just starting. Marty’s road to recovery has been long but I believe there are still miles ahead of us. She has continued to improve, her cognition, her ability to think and communicate is still getting better and I think will continue to get better. It will never be the same – our job now is simply to continue to adjust to our new normal. This is a never ending quest.