BY age 33, Wichitan Bill Ramsey had suffered his second stroke. He hadn't even realized he'd had one at age 28 until he went to a doctor days after suffering the second one.
That's when a doctor told him that his brain showed signs of an earlier stroke.
Both times, Ramsey said, it never would have occurred to him that he had suffered a stroke.
When Ramsey's doctor told him he'd suffered a stroke not once but twice, he had a hard time taking it serious.
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"I laughed and said, 'I'm only 33.' " he said. "I thought strokes happen in older people."
After his treatment and now living with what he calls "acceptable losses" of partial peripheral vision loss, lack of short-term memory and some loss of feeling on his left side of his body and face, he's taking it very seriously.
"I call them acceptable losses because in the scheme of things, they are," said Ramsey, now 38, noting that his undiagnosed heart condition and his delay in seeking treatment could have led to far more serious consequences.
Whenever he's given an opportunity to talk to a group, he encourages people to be aware of the signs and symptoms of his stroke.
When he accepted a recent Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce award for his computer business, The Bill Guy Technology Solutions, he ended with what he calls his "public service announcement."
At last year's Wichita Wagonmasters Downtown Chili Cookoff, he handed out magnets, along with his chili recipe, about stroke awareness.
Not just for older people
According to a recent study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stroke hospitalizations are rising among children and young adults, especially for men under 35.
The study looked at hospitalizations between 1994 and 2007 for those suffering a stroke in which the blood supply to the brain is cut off because of a blockage in a blood vessel.
According to the CDC study, the hospitalization rate had risen by 51 percent among men ages 15 to 34.
For women in the same age group, it increased by 17 percent. For even younger populations, the rate increased too: 31 percent in boys ages 5 to 14, and 36 percent in girls of the same age.
The study showed that men between 35 and 44 years old had a 47 percent increase in strokes, and women in that age range had an increase of 36 percent.
The study didn't explore the reasons behind the trend, but experts say that lifestyle behaviors, such as diets high in fats, smoking and increasing rates of hypertension, are playing a role in that increase.
"Strokes do occur in younger people and lifestyles tend to be the cause," said Carolyn Earnest, a registered nurse who is the stroke coordinator at Wesley Medical Center. "Sometimes it's mechanical but in most cases it's lifestyles."
For Ramsey, it was mechanical. He had a hole in his heart, a condition known as patent foramen ovale, which occurs when a small hole in the heart that helps circulate blood to a fetus doesn't close after birth. About 20 percent of the population has PFO.
Know the signs
Had he known the signs of a stroke, Ramsey said, he would have sought immediate treatment.
After hearing he'd suffered a stroke at a younger age, Ramsey said, he recalled immediately when, at age 28, he had suddenly blacked out. He remembered he didn't feel right for days following that incident.
He had his second stroke while on vacation with his wife, Marilyn, in Galveston, Texas. It occurred in May, which is Stroke Awareness Month.
"It was like a firework went off in my head, with this big white poof of light, but I didn't have any pain," he said.
He lost consciousness and, when he woke up, he'd lost his vision and the left side of his body was tingling so bad that his teeth hurt, he said. As his vision slowly returned, he remembers joking with his wife and friends that he might have had a stroke.
Two days later, after returning to Wichita, he finally consulted his doctor, who immediately diagnosed him as having had a stroke. Four days of testing at Via Christi-St. Francis confirmed the diagnosis. He later had surgery to close the hole in his heart.
The American Stroke Association, a sister organization to the American Heart Association, lists the following as warning signs and recommends seeking immediate treatment if one or more occur:
* Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
* Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
* Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
* Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
* Sudden, severe headache with no known cause.