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AMERICAN FORK — Although strokes are more common in people 65 years or older, this serious "brain attack" can actually affect anyone — men, women, and even children. Understanding the signs and symptoms, and the importance of acting fast could be the difference between life or death.
That was the case for one little eight-year-old girl named Addy Wright. It’s hard to keep up with her on the playground — she loves racing around the playset with her brother and friends playing different variations of “tag.”
Several months ago, Addy Wright was playing with friends at recess. "And then my head started hurting, so I got off the bar and I went to the bathroom," she said.
When she stood up off the toilet, she fell to the ground. Fortunately, a mother and daughter found her lying on the bathroom floor. When they called out to her, Addy responded but said she couldn’t move.
Alyssa Wright, Addy Wright’s mother, said her daughter couldn’t focus her eyes or move the right side of her body.
“There as a droopiness on her cheek and she couldn't smile, [or] couldn't talk. She was pretty unresponsive," she described.
Addy was having a stroke— a medical emergency when the blood flow to the brain is blocked, typically caused by a blood clot.
Her mother was terrified. “I thought I was going to lose her,” Alyssa Wright said in tears.
However, within 30 minutes, Addy was in the emergency room at Utah Valley Hospital. Alyssa Wright credits this quick response time to saving her daughter’s life.
Although Intermountain Healthcare's Dr. Kevin Call said pediatric stroke is rare, he says it's important for anyone having a stroke to act fast.
"Because time is brain, every minute you lose about 32,000 brain cells when a stroke is actively going on," he said.
If one doesn't act fast, someone could risk permanent damage such as, “speech impediments, executive function issues, [or], increased risk for depression and anxiety with larger strokes," Call explained.
Addy Wright received a reversal drug called tPA (tissue plasminogen activator), which according to Call is designed to dissolve blood clots. Call said he can offer tPA to patients usually up to three hours after the stroke.
However, Call urges patients to not delay going to the hospital.
“The sooner you get it [tPA], the greater your chances of getting better, even if it’s 60 minutes or 30 mines from onset,” Call said. “The three-hour window has diminishing effectiveness across that three-hour window, so don’t want for the three hours.”
Alyssa Wright said it was a difficult decision to decide whether or not to give her daughter tPA since the drug has only been tested in adults, not children. They feared the drug could cause bleeding in her brain since she was so young, but Addy’s parents moved forward with the decision and the outcome was successful.
For adults, however, Call said the risk of bleeding is under five percent. He also said 30 percent of patients will improve more with the drug than without it.
That same day, Addy Wright had two blood clots surgically removed at Primary Children’s Hospital after being transferred by Life Flight.
Know the signs of a stroke:
Call encourages people to use the acronym BE FAST to remember the signs of a stroke. He reminds people to call 911 if they demonstrate any of these symptoms to get medical attention immediately, even if the symptoms fluctuate or disappear.
B: Balance — sudden dizziness, loss of balance, coordination, or trouble walking
E: Eyes — sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
F: Face — sudden weakness of the face (Does one side of your face droop?)
A: Arm — weakness of an arm or leg
S: Speech — sudden difficulty speaking or understanding others when they are speaking
T: Time — note the time the symptoms started and act fast
Addy Wright is still healing. “It's challenging for me to not do like my favorite sport I love like gymnastics," she said. Addy is attending weekly therapy, but her mom said she is determined to make a comeback.
“Watching her take her first steps was just amazing — like the best feeling in the world,” Alyssa Wright said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 795,000 people in the country suffer a stroke. In 2009, 66% of patients hospitalized for stroke were over the age of 65.
Call said a stroke can happen because of a blood clot that blocks a blood vessel (ischemic stroke) or because of a blood vessel in your brain bursts (hemorrhagic stroke).
He said genetics can play a role in causing a stroke, but there are things you can do to prevent it such as exercising, eating healthy, sleeping well, controlling your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and not smoking.