'Too young to have a stroke'

Kim Jordison did not go to work that spring day expecting to have a stroke − especially not at the age of 34.

While in her office six years ago, Jordison felt nauseous and had lost control of the left side of her body, causing that side of her face to droop noticeably. She also experienced a severe headache.

“I’ve never felt pain like that before,” said Jordison.

However, she continued with the rest of her work day instead of going straight to the hospital.

“I don’t know if I didn’t know what was happening, or I just didn’t want to really accept what was happening, if I was in denial of it,” said Jordison.

Later that evening in the hospital emergency room, doctors thought Jordison might either have Bell’s palsy or meningitis, but not a stroke, despite her family history.

“When I look back on my Dad’s side, everyone that has passed away has passed away because of heart problems,” said Jordison.

Both Jordison’s mother and father died of heart attacks. Her father was 49, and her mother was 61.

“Nobody wanted to think this could be a stroke because of my age,” said Jordison. “I just knew from my family history that this was probably what was happening to me.”

After many tests, doctors discovered Jordison had had a mini-stroke, or a transient ischemic attack.

According to Patrice Lindsay, director of best practices and performance at the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the biggest challenge is getting people to take the risks of stroke seriously.

“Younger people especially don’t think stroke’s their issue,” she said, adding that stroke can happen at any age, and more strokes are happening at a younger age now.

Factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity are playing a part in that, said Lindsay.

“We know that maintaining a healthy blood pressure literally will obliterate half the strokes that happen.”

When Lindsay was 38, she was rocking her two-year old child to sleep when she suddenly dropped to the floor and went completely paralyzed on one side of her body. She managed to get the attention of her husband by banging on the floor with one hand, but was unable to speak clearly. Being a critical care nurse by training, Lindsay, now 50, knew she was having a stroke. But even she did not see it coming.

“I was a hard-working, healthy person,” said Lindsay. “Like all other people my age, it was nowhere on my radar.”

The classic signs of stroke are sudden onset weakness on one side of the body, trouble speaking, vision problems, headache and dizziness.

However, not everyone experiences the same symptoms, and the level of severity differs per person also, said Lindsay.

Since her stroke, Jordison has learned to enjoy every day, and has made more of an effort to live healthier.

“When you have this kind of situation happen to you, you realize that every day is a gift and that the little things don’t always need to matter in life,” she said.

After her mother’s death, Jordison and her family created a bucket list for every season of activities they can do together. Some are as simple as going for a picnic or going swimming with the whole family, and others are quirkier, such as milking a cow.

“Life is so busy, and there’s so many things that you want to do that even just simple things are sometimes hard to fit in,” said Jordison.

If someone is experiencing symptoms of a stroke, Lindsay advises calling 911 immediately rather than getting to the hospital some other way.

“[Otherwise] you catch the hospital by surprise, and you may not get to the right hospital,” said Lindsay. “Not every hospital is equipped to handle a stroke emergency.”

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s 2014 Stroke Report, there are approximately 50,000 strokes in Canada every year, or one every 10 minutes, and a growing number of strokes are occurring among people aged 30 to 50.

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