My name is Ashley Slate McGuire, and I am 33 years old. I was born in Fairfax, Va. and grew up in Richmond. I never dreamed I would be dealing with a stroke at the age of 19. I had no idea what caused a stroke or what signs to even look for. However, I knew my grandfather (who was an Army General) had a stroke at the young age of 49. When I was 10, he told me the story of how he was in the Pentagon working one day and started having trouble carrying his briefcase and drinking his coffee, but he decided to just work through it. His aide knew something was wrong, because my grandfather had put his uniform on wrong that morning. My grandfather finally ended up going to Walter Reed hospital and found out he had a stroke. I didn’t understand then that having a stroke was a life-threatening disease. Thankfully he recovered.
Years later while I was in college, I was sitting at my family’s kitchen table talking to my dad about Mother’s Day. I had just taken a shower and was still in my robe. In the blink of an eye, the room started to cave in and my eyes felt as if I was in a tunnel and my vision went out completely. I fell directly on the kitchen floor and was unable to speak. I remember trying to say “Dad” but was mumbling. In a panic, I could hear my dad calling 9-1-1. He sounded more nervous than I was. I couldn’t feel a thing on my left side, my speech was slurred, and I was confused as to what was happening. Moments later, the EMT arrived, and I was on a stretcher heading to the hospital.
When I arrived at the hospital, the doctors and nurses were very surprised at my condition and called in a neurologist immediately to help with the diagnosis. A blood clot on the right side of my brain had caused me to have a stroke. I was hooked up to a heart monitor and under a 24-hour watch for over a week. I also had a constant headache that lasted for days.
I did not smoke and led a healthy lifestyle, so what caused the clot in the first place? The neurologist explained it was probably a “complicated migraine” and that you do not need to have a headache for a migraine to occur. At 19, none of this made sense to me. When it was time to be discharged and the heart monitor came off, I started to have a rush of anxiety. This anxiety was very new to me, and I couldn’t stop thinking, “Was this going to happen again?” Six months later I had a transient ischemic attack (TIA), which is often called a “mini-stroke,” but the term “warning stroke” is more appropriate for these temporary episodes, because they can indicate the likelihood of a coming stroke.
Since then I developed awful migraines and found out I also have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) which means it will be harder for me to conceive. Being able to conceive a child on my own was extremely important to me. That news, on top of having a stroke and the complications that “could” occur if I did get pregnant, was beyond devastating to hear.
Fast forward 13 years later. I am now married to my high school sweat-heart. In 2015, I had a beautiful baby girl, and last year, I had a handsome baby boy. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle with diet and exercise, as well as going to my yearly doctor checkups, are very important to me.
I want other young people to know that it could possibly happen to them and to learn the warning signs, so they can be prepared to act FAST. Don’t take the symptoms lightly and do what it takes to lower your risk of having a heart attack and stroke. My whole family and I went to get advanced diagnostic testing and are paying attention to the red flags they found. My mom is continuing to work out to lose more weight, and my dad has changed his diet, drinking water instead of Coke and swearing off the convenience of fast food. I want to encourage other families to get healthy together. There is no better support than the support from your loved ones. It’s NEVER too late to make a change to live a longer, happier, vibrant life.
While strokes are more common among older people, nearly one-quarter of strokes occur in people under age 25, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death for Americans and a leading cause of adult disability in the United States. About 60 percent of annual stroke deaths are female – 55,000 more women than men have a stroke each year. (May is American Stroke Awareness Month, a great opportunity for everyone to learn more.)