At 39, Gabe Scofield felt he was in the best shape of his life. A service manager at a motorcycle dealership in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Scofield regularly spent time racing motorcycles offroad, mountain biking and weight training.
The father of two boys—13-year-old Jesse and 6-year-old Zander—Scofield strove to take good care of himself. He was selective about the foods he ate and kept his cholesterol in check.
“We’re very health conscious,” he said of himself and wife Tabetha.
But while sitting at his desk Sept. 11, Scofield experienced a “really weird feeling” in his head. He bent over to pick up a piece of paper off the printer, and his left arm went numb. Suddenly, he had double vision, with a rainbow-like kaleidoscope effect in his left eye.
“I told one of the guys at my shop, and he said, ‘That’s not good,’” Scofield recalled. A colleague drove him to the hospital.
In the emergency room, a CT scan revealed no abnormalities.
A migraine headache was suspected. But an MRI the next morning showed that Scofield had actually suffered two strokes, in addition to an earlier, previously undiagnosed stroke.
For five days, Scofield underwent numerous tests, including an ultrasound, an EKG and X-rays to determine what caused the strokes. The final test was a transesophageal echocardiogram in which a tube was put down his throat to look at the back of his heart.
That’s when doctors found a “hole” in Scofield’s heart, or a patent foramen ovale. The condition means that the flap-like opening in the heart that normally closes shortly after birth did not close, a defect which affects about one in five Americans. In some people, an open flap remaining between the two upper chambers of the heart can allow a blood clot from one part of the body to travel through the flap and up to the brain, causing a stroke.
Scofield also was diagnosed with atrial septal aneurysm, meaning a part of the septum separating the two upper chambers formed an abnormal pocket that was allowing blood clots to form.
Those conditions combined significantly increase the risk of stroke.
“Who knew I would fall ill to a birth defect that was never found,” Scofield said.
After his diagnosis, Scofield was advised to choose from two options: Beginning a regimen of blood-thinning medication or surgically having the hole closed.
He chose to have the hole closed. On Oct. 15, he traveled to Houston for the procedure. During the 15-minute surgery, performed by accessing the heart through a vein in the leg, a piece of titanium mesh the size of a dime was inserted to close the hole.
Scofield decided to share his story for World Stroke Day in hopes of encouraging others to act quickly if they notice any warning signs regarding heart health. His experience exemplifies why World Stroke Day was created — to help spread public awareness of the high risk and prevalence of stroke.
“If anything is happening to your body and you’re like, ‘What’s going on here?’ check it out,” he said. “To be there for your loved ones or your children means the world.”
This week, Scofield returned to work. And now, he can’t wait to get back on his motorcycle and kick up some dirt.
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