A 33-year-old man who suffered a stroke has revealed the subtle symptom he almost ignored and tried to sleep off.
Alex McKeown, who lives in Chicago, said he woke up one morning in May feeling tired — but pushed through and went to his workout class to avoid a no-show fee.
During the first of three rounds of exercise, however, he lost his balance while lifting weights and had to sit at the side.
Staff gave him water and orange juice, with Mr McKeown saying his light-headedness and dizziness were down to dehydration.
Fifteen minutes after the class had finished, however, and as his condition did not improve — with Mr McKeown now lying on the floor — they called an ambulance.
Alex McKeown, who lives in Chicago, said he woke up in early May feeling tired but pushed on and went to his workout class to avoid a no-show fee. If he had gone back to sleep, he would have likely suffered more severe damage from his stroke
Mr McKeown is shown above at Northwestern Hospital where he was treated. He is with Dr Ali Shaibani, who helped with his treatment
The 33-year-old said: ‘I originally told myself to just push through it, but I had two women around me – the fitness instructor and another employee – and I’m so thankful they were there and kept a watchful eye on me, because they called 911.
‘Without them, I likely would have gone home to sleep it off, and I probably wouldn’t be talking or walking right now.’
Because Mr McKeown got rapid treatment, he has made a full recovery and does not appear to have suffered any long-term damage. If he had waited, however, it was possible that he would have been left struggling to walk and talk.
A stroke is when a blockage forms in an artery supplying the brain, cutting off cells from their vital nutrients and oxygen supply and leading them to die rapidly.
The condition is not common in young adults, with only about 10 to 15 percent of cases in people under 45 years old. People over 65 years old are most at risk.
Alex said it was ‘fantastical’ to be facing a stroke at the age of 33 years
But doctors found that Mr McKeown has an aortic aneurysm, or swelling in one of his arteries, raising the risk that a plaque could break off an artery and cause a blockage. This is normally silent and causes no symptoms until it is advanced.
He also put his body under a lot of stress with his job as an investor, working 65 to 70 hours a week, and as a regular gym goer.
Describing the moment he was told he was having a stroke at 33 years old, he said: ‘It’s kind of fantastical to get that news at 33. It defied belief.’
Mr McKeown told TODAY that when the paramedics arrived he could no longer stand on his own.
‘I couldn’t get up or stand without assistance,’ he said.
‘By the time I got to hospital, I couldn’t lift my left arm or my left leg and couldn’t really see out of my left eye.’
On the way he called a friend to ask him to bring his ID and insurance card, but over the phone his words were ‘slurring’ and his friend struggled to understand him.
At the ER, doctors immediately evaluated Mr McKeown for a possible stroke and carried out scans.
These revealed he had what doctors called a ‘fairly extensive’ clot going all the way from the base of one of his carotid arteries — which run through the neck and supply blood to the face and brain — up to the middle cerebral artery behind his eye socket.
Doctors initially gave him tenecteplase, a medication that can help to dissolve blood clots.
They also carried out a thrombectomy, a type of surgery where doctors insert a catheter into a blood vessel in the groin area and then snake it up to the blood clot. This is then pulled out using suction to clear the arteries and restore normal blood flow.
Dr Ali Shaibani, the chief neurologist for radiology at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago, said they had to ‘move quickly’.
‘Alex’s case is remarkable because we typically don’t see strokes in his age group,’ he said.
‘You lose about 1.9million brain cells per minute with a stroke, so we moved very quickly to clear out a large blood clot that was blocking his artery.’
Mr McKeown showed a major improvement within a few hours of the procedure but spent the next six days in the hospital in case of further complications.
Doctors said his age likely helped him to recover rapidly from the stroke.
He will need to return for another surgery in a few months, however, to repair his aortic aneurysm and head off any potential future problems.
Mr McKeown has also been taking it easy — rowing back on how long he spends at the gym and at work.
His commitment was previously so strong that even while he was in hospital with a stroke he still took a call from work. But doctors told him to get off the phone, saying it was not important.
Asked about his advice for others, he said: ‘People think, this won’t happen to me, but guess what? I thought that too.
‘The biggest lesson I learned from this experience is that if you think something is wrong, seek medical attention right away. Trust me, it’s worth it.’
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