World Stroke Day

Your Health | one year ago

He Thought He Had Heat Exhaustion; It Was a Stroke

Jesse Lowe shares his story as a reminder to all: It’s crucial to learn the signs of a stroke and to get to a hospital as soon as one is even suspected.

At first, 73-year-old Jesse Lowe mistook his stroke for heat exhaustion. It was an understandable mistake: He’d just been mowing his lawn on a hot July afternoon. When he went inside for a break, he had a hard time picking up food or a drink. Jesse relaxed for about an hour before returning outside, but then he fell against the door and couldn’t use the right side of his body. With the tell-tale sign of one-sided paralysis, he realized that it wasn’t heat exhaustion at all. It was probably a stroke.

Jesse arrived at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist- Lexington Medical Center  in enough time to receive tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), a medication that can help relieve blood clots and restore blood flow to the brain if it’s taken within three to four hours of a stroke. His timing was crucial. The medication immediately resolved two blood clots in his brain. After a weekend of care through Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Comprehensive Stroke Center, Jesse was back home with nothing more than lingering fatigue. The outcome would’ve likely been far different had he waited to go to the hospital.

“That tPA is something. It saved my life, there’s no question about that. The only reason I was able to get that is because I got to the hospital within those four golden hours,” Jesse says. 

“You’re Worth It”

If there’s anyone who’d want to avoid a trip to the hospital, it’d be Jesse. He’s spent more than his fair share of time in hospitals over the past several years. Five years ago, he had   open heart surgery at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist - High Point Medical Center with cardiologist Dr. Herman Barrett Cheek,  followed by an odds-defying recovery. A year later, he was treated for leukemia that went into remission. And just last year, he underwent radiation for prostate cancer. After all that, Jesse was feeling good and ready to be done with hospitals for a while.

It’d be understandable, then, why Jesse would avoid a trip to the emergency department. But that split second decision to get to a hospital as soon as he suspected a stroke enabled him another amazing recovery.

Symptoms of a stroke include difficulty with walking or coordination, paralysis on one side of the body, like Jesse had, along with blurred vision or slurred speech, a pins-and-needles sensation and muscle weakness. Although these are the most common symptoms, a stroke can look different in different people. Sometimes, it can present as sudden, overwhelming fatigue. Or, it can feel like an electrical charge on one side of the body. If someone feels like something is suddenly wrong, it’s best to call 911, even if they aren’t certain whether it is or isn’t a stroke. Time is brain; the sooner someone begins treatment for a stroke, the more likely it is that they can minimize lasting detriments after a stroke.

“When you walk into an emergency department and add up the years of education and experience of everyone working in there, that’s a lot of years. And still, it’s important to do diagnostic tests to determine if it’s a stroke,” says Tarsha Marika Palmer Jesse’s neurology nurse practitioner at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist. “So, you don’t need to diagnose yourself. Come in if you don’t know, and it’s not wasting your time. You’re doing the right thing.” 

Palmer says that if someone has concerns about a stroke, it’s best to call 911 and get an ambulance. With an ambulance, treatment begins immediately and paramedics can coordinate with the hospital so that treatment continues quickly upon arrival. Someone who suspects they’re having a stroke should never try to drive to the hospital on their own.

“After a stroke, people can have disabilities that alter their life or their family’s lives,” says Palmer. “But if you come in as soon as possible, there’s a very good chance you can recover from a stroke much better. You can have a better quality of life and get back to the things you like to do.”

Although some people can’t receive tPA – including people who take certain kinds of blood thinners, who have had recent surgery or whose stroke symptoms have resolved – the medication can be a life-changer for those who are eligible. This medication can mean the difference between life-changing disabilities and being able to have more body function, as in Jesse’s case.

Reducing the Risk of First-Time or Recurrent Strokes

During Jesse’s recovery, Palmer spent more than an hour talking to Jesse and his brother about how the stroke may affect his life and what he can do to reduce his risk of future strokes, such as cutting back on certain foods and remaining active. 

Palmer stresses that when it comes to stroke prevention, small, consistent changes add up. It’s important not to let perfection be the enemy of good. If someone hasn’t been to a doctor in several years, it’s a good time to get back to their doctor for an annual exam. If someone hasn’t managed a condition like diabetes or hypertension as they should, it’s okay to forgive themselves and start again. If someone’s a smoker and having a hard time quitting, it’s a good time to cut back and work toward a quit date. 

“Preventive health is so hard – moving more, eating better – and I tell patients all the time that everything I’m telling them, I’m also trying to do for myself. But it’s all about preventive health, preventive health, preventive health, says Palmer.”

Now, Jesse is back home, with the energy and strength to return to his work and to the activities he loves, such as singing in the church choir. He’s committed to regular check-ups and keeping his doctor aware of anything that might be a problem, whether it’s lack of appetite or shortness of breath.

“Don’t try to take your health into your own hands,” Jesse says. “If you have any kind of problem, don’t face it on your own. The doctors are there. The hospital is there. I believe that there are angels here on earth and I think half of them work in hospitals.”

Top Ranked Stroke Care

Stroke is the fifth-leading cause of death and a leading cause of adult disability in the U.S. On average, someone in the U.S. suffers a stroke every 40 seconds, and nearly 795,000 people suffer a new or recurrent stroke each year. As Jesse’s story shows, early stroke detection and treatment are key to improving survival, minimizing disability and accelerating recovery times.

Atrium Health facilities across North Carolina and Georgia hold the American Heart Association’s “Get With The Guidelines®-Stroke” Gold Plus Quality Achievement Award. The designation honors Atrium Health for its commitment to ensuring stroke patients receive the most appropriate treatment according to nationally recognized, research-based guidelines. In addition, numerous facilities received additional stroke-related awards. Learn more