Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Article Comments

A 32-Year-Old Had A Stroke: Could It Happen To You?

The Shermans

Deanna and Rebecca Sherman

As many as 15% of Americans have a blood disorder (called anti-phospholipid antibody syndrome - APS) that can increase their risk for blood clots and stroke. While these antibodies are especially common in people with certain auto-immune diseases like SLE (systemic lupus erethematosis – or “lupus”) quite a few people have them without ever knowing it. In fact, most people with APS remain asymptomatic their entire lives – but for an unlucky few, the disorder can cause devastating consequences.

I interviewed Rebecca Sherman about her recent stroke caused by APS. Listen to the podcast here.

Dr. Val: Tell me about the events leading up to your stroke.

Sherman: I was a young, healthy 32-year-old with no idea that I had anti-phospholipid antibodies in my blood. One morning when I was washing my face at my boyfriend’s house I suddenly noticed that one side of it was frozen. I was standing in front of the bathroom sink and I fell to the floor with the washcloth in my hand. I couldn’t walk or talk – the whole right side of my body didn’t do what I wanted it to do. So I threw the washcloth at my boyfriend’s head (with my left hand). Luckily my aim was good (he was asleep in bed) and the bed was near the door to the bathroom -  the cold, wet object caused him to jump out of bed and find me.

My boyfriend figured that he’d get me to the hospital faster (we live in New York City) if he hailed a cab rather than calling 911 and waiting for an ambulance to arrive. The problem with this approach is that when we arrived at the Emergency Department the triage staff expected me to explain what was going on and to fill out a registration form (since I was technically a “walk in” which is assumed to be less acute). Of course I couldn’t do either – so after talking to a brick wall for a few minutes they asked my boyfriend to explain what was going on. They then realized I was having a stroke and I was immediately given blood thinner treatment.

Dr. Val: What was your recovery like?

Sherman: I was in the hospital for 2 weeks, and during that time my brain was very sensitive to external stimuli. For example I couldn’t have the TV on in the background when the doctor came to talk to me. I had a pretty severe aphasia – I could only say three words: “hotel,” “hospital,” and “house.” At the time, I thought I was having full conversations with people but those were the only actual words coming out of my mouth. I have no idea why I could only say “h” words.

I did receive lots of therapy, including speech, occupational, and physical therapy. I went to the hospital every other day during my outpatient recovery period.

However, it took me a long time to get back to my usual “multi-tasking queen” self.

Dr. Val: Do you have any residual deficits?

Sherman: Absolutely, I still have slight weakness on my right-hand side, and it makes me kind of clumsy. Also if I’m sick, nervous, or tired I have word-finding difficulties.

Dr. Val: Pregnancy puts people with APS at a higher risk of stroke. What was it like to get pregnant? Were you anxious? How did you handle the pregnancy?

Sherman: Getting pregnant was especially difficult for me because (in addition to the APS) I have polycystic ovary disease. Luckily I didn’t have to undergo hormonal treatment to get pregnant because that would have put me at much higher risk for another stroke. I found out I was pregnant on Christmas eve, and my hematologist prescribed low molecular weight heparin (Lovenox) injections right away. I injected myself with it once a day for almost 9 months. The last two weeks of my pregnancy I was switched from Lovenox to heparin injections twice a day. Then I used a tapered dose of Lovenox for 6 weeks post-partum, and then I went back on baby aspirin for my APS. I’ll take one aspirin a day now for the rest of my life.

Dr. Val: What do you do differently now that you’ve been diagnosed with anti-phosopholipid antibody syndrome?

Sherman: Well, I see my hematologist every six months to a year. While most people probably don’t see their dentist as often as I see my hematologist, it’s an important part of my life now because I want to stay as healthy as I can. I take a baby aspirin every day, I eat nutritious foods and I go to the gym regularly. Of course, I’m much better at taking the aspirin than going to the gym and eating right.

Dr. Val: What advice do you have for others with this syndrome?

Sherman: Once you find out you have it, there’s a lot that you can learn about APS. I strongly recommend that people with APS go to the American Society of Hematology website. There’s so much to learn about our blood – it’s an often-overlooked feature of good health.

***

To listen to Rebecca tell me her story, please check out the podcast.


You may also like these posts

Read comments »


Comments are closed.

Return to article »

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

Read more »

How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

See all cartoons »

Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

Read more »

The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

Read more »

Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

Read more »

See all book reviews »