In February 2020, Lewis Palmer's friends and family noticed something didn't sound right in his voice. The 46-year-old from Baton Rouge, Louisiana was hoarse and his speech was slightly slurred.
"It sounded like I was really tired and had been yelling at a football game the night before when all I had done was go out for a relaxing time with some friends," Palmer said.
Although he wasn't in any pain, he decided to get checked out at a local hospital where tests revealed Palmer had suffered a stroke.
After spending about a week in the local hospital his doctor referred him to The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) for follow-up treatment to make sure he continued to get stronger.
Palmer had several risk factors that contributed to him having a stroke despite his young age. He had been diagnosed with high blood pressure in his early 20s and he also smoked cigars.
"Smoking itself increases your risk for a stroke and an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise can lead to development of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, which are also major risk factors," said Palmer's neurologist Anjail Sharrief, MD, MPH, associate professor of neurology at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth and the director of stroke prevention for the UTHealth Institute for Stroke and Cerebrovascular Disease. She added that race is also a contributing factor to stroke risk and that Palmer as a Black man was four times more likely to have a stroke than a white man who was exactly the same age.
Palmer now follows a regimented exercise program and checks his blood pressure three times every morning and three times every evening. "I don't think I have ever worked out this much in my life," he said with a laugh. He has also given up smoking and visits Sharrief every few months to make sure he remains on track.
"She has been an excellent part of my recovery," Palmer said.
Sharrief is proud of Palmer's progress and said his lifestyle changes have done a lot to significantly lower his chances of having another stroke. One in 4 stroke survivors are at risk of having another one, according to the American Stroke Association.
In addition to the lifestyle habits and health conditions that could put someone at risk for a stroke, Sharrief also encourages people to be aware of the symptoms of stroke. While most people are aware of the acronym "FAST," Sharrief says it's important to add "BE" to that for Balance and Eye problems. In fact, the American Heart Association has said the acronym needs to be updated to "BE FAST" because many people who have suffered a stroke had no symptoms of "FAST" but did have balance and eye problems.
BE FAST stands for:
B - Balance
E - Eye Problems
F - Face Drooping
A - Arm Weakness
S - Speech Difficulty
T - Time to Call 911
She said the time aspect of dealing with a stroke is critical. "It is always true that the earlier you make it to a hospital, the better. But to be eligible for tPA, the clot-busting medication that is one of the treatments for ischemic stroke, you need to seek help within the first 4 1/2 hours after symptoms start," she said.
Sharrief added that you should constantly be monitoring if something doesn't feel right with your body because it is possible for a symptom to become more noticeable in the hours and days following a stroke. While he was in the hospital after his initial diagnosis Palmer noticed his penmanship started to become difficult to read.
"In his case, it might have been that the symptom was there all along but he didn't immediately notice it until he actually tried to start writing things down," Sharrief said. "That's why it is always important to monitor anything that might feel or look abnormal."
Palmer is thankful the stroke was minor and looks forward to continuing to work hard to remain healthy for his family.
"It's a scary thought when I realize I could have left this earth, and it certainly put me in a different mindset," he said. "But now I am focused on eating right, taking my medicines daily, drinking more water, and continuing to exercise. I have to take care of myself to be better for my wife and three kids. My oldest are 20 and 19 and my youngest is 6; I have a lot more memories to make with them."
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