By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS
Sean Summers was sitting on the couch with his dad, Terry Summers, last August as Terry nursed a bad headache. The two had just returned from an arduous drive back to Kansas City, Missouri, from California and were watching TV. Terry tried to ask Sean a question, but the words came out garbled.
“It was like I was talking in slow motion,” said Terry, who was 61 at the time. “I knew they weren’t coming out right, but I just thought, ‘I must be really tired.’”
Sean, however, immediately recognized something was wrong and asked his dad if he was OK. Terry tried again to answer, and this time his speech was even worse.
“Sean looked at me and said, ‘You’re having a stroke, I’m calling 911,’” Terry recalled.
The stroke symptoms became more obvious while Sean was on the phone with emergency dispatchers. Even so, Terry protested, still thinking it was just exhaustion, and tried to stand up before collapsing due to weakness on his left side. He also lost vision in his left eye.
“I had just heard the F.A.S.T. signs so many times, I knew as soon as I heard him trying to talk that it was a stroke,” said Sean, 26.
Growing up, he’d heard tales of stroke patients who recovered after quick medical treatment from his mom, Debbie Summers, a longtime stroke nurse and volunteer for the American Stroke Association.
He’d sat through a few presentations she gave, and even had a couple foam balls that had “F.A.S.T.” printed on them, an acronym reminding people that if a person has face drooping, arm weakness or slurred speech, it’s time to call 911.
“I never expected something like this to happen in my family, but it can happen to anyone,” Sean said. “It’s better to be safe than sorry and call 911 if you suspect stroke is a possibility.”
Emergency medical teams arrived quickly and took Terry to the nearest hospital where he was given alteplase, a clot-busting medication, before being transferred to another hospital where doctors performed a mechanical thrombectomy, a procedure that uses a device to retrieve the clot from the brain.
Debbie was in Zambia, Africa, for a church mission, but got regular updates and was able to review the brain MRI images online.
Terry was released from the hospital three days later. Today, he occasionally has memory loss, difficulty finding the right words, and sensitivity to lights or loud sounds.
Stroke is the No. 5 cause of death in the U.S., and a leading cause of serious long-term disability. For Terry, the clot was blocking blood flow to about a third of his brain and could have resulted in significant long-term disability or death if left untreated.
It was the second time Sean saved his dad’s life by calling 911. In 2007, Terry had returned from the gym and started complaining of chest pain. Sean called 911. Terry was having a heart attack and needed two stents to reopen blocked arteries.
Doctors believe Terry’s stroke was caused by atrial fibrillation, an irregular heart rhythm that causes about one in five strokes. The condition was originally detected a few years after Terry’s heart attack, but the condition appeared to go away and treatment was stopped.
Terry had other risk factors for stroke — he smoked and had a family history of heart disease.
“I knew I was at risk, but didn’t think it was going to happen to me, or that if it was, there wasn’t anything I could do about it,” he said. “Now, I understand there are things that I can and should manage better.”
Terry quit smoking, exercises and watches his diet. He also gets regular checkups with a cardiologist, and takes an anticoagulant to reduce his risk of another stroke.
The American Heart Association recognized Sean last November with a Brain Saver award alongside the first responders and medical team who treated Terry.
“The only reason I’m around to tell my story,” Terry said, “is because my son saw and knew the signs of a stroke and had the gumption to call the ambulance even though I was telling him not to.”
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