Brain Infographics

I never thought I’d have a stroke at 39 years old

A man wearing an orange shirt peers over his left shoulder. He is standing infront of green bushes, which are blurred in the background.

It took just 15 minutes for Louis Beaulieu’s day to take a drastic turn. Little did he know, the one call he made on social media that day would help change his life for the better.

It was June 26, 2017, and Louis woke up at 6:00 AM feeling tired. After having some breakfast, Louis texted his partner to let him know he would be staying at home that day to rest. On the way back to the bedroom, he suddenly lost his balance.

“I was paralysed. I could barely move my legs and body,” says Louis. “It happened really fast. I had no idea what was happening. My priorities were about to change.”

Louis found he was no longer able to text. The only thing he could do was call his partner with one press of a button using an app on his smartphone.

“When I got through to him, I was only able to say ‘dizzy’ and ‘home’,” explains Louis. 

At this point, it was 6:15 AM. 

His partner recognised that Louis was slurring his words, which is one of the signs of stroke. Acting quickly, arrangements were made for another friend to tend to Louis while his partner drove over to pick them up. 

They arrived at Sunnybrook a short time later where Louis was rushed to the emergency department and treated right away, receiving stroke medication by 8:30am.

“In the case of a significant stroke, emergency blood clot-breaking medication can only be administered within 4.5 hours of the time of onset of the stroke,” says Dr. Mark Boulos, stroke neurologist at Sunnybrook.

“I am grateful I received the drug in time,” says Louis. “The stroke took me by surprise. I was 39 years old and I never thought I’d have a stroke.”

Why young people can have strokes

A stroke is a medical emergency that occurs when blood suddenly stops flowing to any part of the brain. When this happens, the brain is not receiving oxygen and nutrients and brain cells begin to die.

“It is uncommon for younger people to be diagnosed with stroke, however, not completely unheard of,” says Dr. Boulos. “People of any age can experience a stroke; a child, youth, those in their 20s and 30s, and older. Stroke knows no age.”

The possibility of a stroke had never crossed Louis’ mind. 

“My health was excellent and I was in top shape,” he says. 

Louis’ doctors found a pre-existing heart condition that had never been diagnosed, called patent foramen ovale (or PFO), which is a congenital heart defect that can increase the risk of stroke. 

“I learned I had a hole in my heart,” explains Louis. “I had that hole for 39 years and didn’t know.”

Dr. Boulos says other factors may contribute to an increased risk of stroke in young patients such as genetic conditions that may predispose an individual to blood clotting or inflammation or abnormal blood vessels in the brain.

“The reasons why someone may have a stroke at a younger age are often quite different compared to strokes that occur in people at an older age,” says Dr. Boulos. 

“For example, young patients may have stroke from a tear in a blood vessel (known as a “dissection”), whereas other mechanisms, such as an irregular heart rhythm like atrial fibrillation or plaque build-up in an artery, will be more likely in an older patient,” he explains. 

General risk factors for stroke include: 

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • History of smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Sleep apnea

“It is important to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle to help reduce the risk of stroke,” says Dr. Boulos.

The importance of acting FAST when you see signs of stroke

It is also important to act quickly at the first signs of a stroke. More time means more brain is saved.

There are 100 billion neurons in the brain. They are crucial to helping us think, learn, move and talk. Each of these specialized cells is responsible for delivering messages to areas from the brain and spine to other cells in the body. 

When a stroke occurs, time is ticking. 1.9 million brain cells die each minute that a stroke goes untreated.  This is why experts say, “time is brain.” If you think you’re seeing the signs of stroke. There’s no time to lose. A stroke is a medical emergency.

“Strokes detected and treated earlier result in better outcomes compared to patients who get diagnosed/treated later in the course of the stroke,” says Dr. Boulos.

An infographic illustrating the four signs of a stroke is shown infront of three images of the same cartoon boy and one cell phone.

Click to view plain text version of infographic

Face: Is the face is drooping?
Arms:  Can you raise both arms?
Speech: Is the speech slurred, or jumbled?
Time to call 9-1-1.

Life after stroke

It took many months, but Louis was able to make a full recovery.  

“I’m feeling strong,” says Louis. “I still exercise, eat healthy and continue the same good habits that I had before.”

Louis adds that having experienced a stroke has changed his perspective on life. “I am not stressed anymore by work, relationships or small things.”

For other stroke patients, Louis has this advice. “Take all the support you can get. Patience, resilience and discipline are important factors that have helped me get through it.”

About the author

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Jennifer Palisoc

Jennifer Palisoc is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

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