Many think of stroke as a disease that strikes when we’re older, but it can – and does – happen at any age.

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or ruptures. If you think someone may be having a stroke, it’s essential to recognize the symptoms and act fast. In fact, FAST is the acronym for spotting and treating stroke symptoms: Face drooping, Arm weakness and Speech difficulties mean it’s Time to call 911 immediately.

You should not assume a person can’t be having a stroke because he or she isn’t elderly.

There really is no typical stroke patient, according to Terri Marshall, RN, stroke program coordinator at Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center.

“In the past five years, we have treated patients ranging in age from 19 to 103,” Terri said. “And 38 percent of our stroke cases occur in people younger than 65.”

In young and middle-age adults, strokes happen for a variety of reasons. From undiagnosed birth defects to chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure, the risk factors for stroke have no age limit. Just ask two young parents who were rushed to Adventist HealthCare hospitals – facilities that have received the American Stroke Association’s Gold Plus Achievement honor – after suffering strokes.

Fitness Instructor Trusts Shady Grove for Care

It was a morning just like any other. Erica Burns, 41, from Gaithersburg, got her three kids off to school and went to LA Fitness, where she is a spin instructor.

But on her bike during the warmup for class, Erica felt her whole world begin to spin.

She pushed through the class, but as she dismounted her bike, she realized she was too dizzy to walk. Soon after, she began vomiting and a co-worker called an ambulance.

Erica arrived at Shady Grove Medical Center, where emergency teams began to treat her for vertigo and administer fluids.

Vijaya Kommineni, MD, a hospitalist with Shady Grove, told Erica that despite her young age, he wanted to do an MRI to spot any evidence of a stroke.

“I had no real risk factors; my blood pressure and cholesterol were normal. I’m a fitness instructor,” Erica said. “However, I knew something was wrong. I was scared.”

Just 20 minutes after Erica’s MRI, Dr. Kommineni came to her room to confirm that she had experienced a stroke.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Erica said. “The only thing that made it real was the look on my husband’s face.”

Erica‘s care team conducted a full evaluation and discovered a hole in her heart which had likely been there since birth.

“It’s actually quite common, but I had the unfortunate luck to have a blood clot pass through.”

After Erica was discharged, she began a baby aspirin regimen. Because she was already eating well and exercising regularly, she did not have to make any major lifestyle changes.

Just two weeks later, Erica was back to teaching spin class.

“My care team at Shady Grove gave me a great piece of advice, and that is to listen to your body,” Erica said. “If something doesn’t feel right, call your doctor or call 911 and go to the hospital.”

Rehab Gives Hope to Young Patient

One Friday morning in 2017, 34-year-old Jean Ngueleu began having intermittent headaches. The pain continued until Sunday morning, when he watched his toothbrush fall out of his hand as he brushed his teeth. Jean realized the right side of his body had gone numb. His wife, Diane, noticed something was wrong and called 911.

Paramedics brought Jean from his Hyattsville home to the Emergency Department at Adventist HealthCare Washington Adventist Hospital. There, doctors discovered he had suffered a hemorrhagic stroke, which is caused by bleeding in the brain. Jean’s history of hypertension was one of the risk factors that led to his stroke.

After a week of specialized care from the Washington Adventist Hospital medical teams in the Intensive Care Unit and Intermediate Medical Care Unit, Jean began therapy at Adventist HealthCare Rehabilitation’s inpatient program.

“Jean, who was expecting his first son with his wife, could not walk or talk when he first came to Adventist Rehabilitation,” said Inder Chawla, MD, medical director at Adventist Rehabilitation in Takoma Park. His treatment plan included intensive occupational, speech, recreational and physical therapy. Within two weeks of starting rehabilitation, Jean regained his ability to walk and talk.

After his stroke, Jean knew there would be challenges ahead. “I remember thinking one of my biggest challenges would be driving again. I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to.” However, because of his care, he was able to regain his ability to drive independently.

Jean is very thankful for the care he received from his doctor, nurses and therapists.

“Everyone was always there when I needed them,” he said. “I would give five stars to everyone there [at Adventist Rehabilitation] for everything they did for me.”

Less than a week after he was discharged from Adventist Rehabilitation, he returned to Washington Adventist, but this time for a different reason – the birth of his son. Today, Jean and Diane enjoy keeping up with their active 8-month-old boy, Karl.

Learn more about Adventist HealthCare's nationally accredited stroke rehabilitation program.