Sarah Porter was only 20 years old, sitting in a math class in college, when she suffered her first stroke.
“I went a bit foggy; I didn’t think anything of it, I thought I was a bit tired, “she told the Daily Mail.
She ignored it at first, carrying on and writing notes, until a classmate became concerned and asked if Porter was OK. The student sitting next to Porter told her that her face was twitching and that she had passed out. The classmate thought Porter may have had a seizure.
Porter made it through the rest of class, but when she stood up, her right arm was tingly and her right leg wouldn’t work. By the time she dragged herself back to her dorm room, her face was in spasm.
A nurse at the hospital thought she was faking, saying no one at her age in good health would have a stroke. It was suggested she was just trying to avoid taking her final exams.
“The crazy thing is, I probably would have listened to her if my brother wasn’t there kicking up a fuss,” Porter said. “I had no idea what was happening to me, and to be honest I didn’t think I could have a stroke that young either.”
Twenty-four hours later, Porter couldn’t walk. She was able to recognize family members, but she could no longer remember her sophomore year of college or parts of her childhood. That moment marked the beginning of a long journey for Porter, who is now 26 years old, and has had two strokes and two brain surgeries, the last of which she had in the spring of 2015.
Porter shared the post below on her Instagram in the spring of 2016 celebrating the year anniversary of the successful surgery.
“A year ago today was my second brain surgery thank god we cleared up the infection so my eye doesn’t look like that anymore,” she wrote.
Stroke is the third leading cause of death in women. And, because women tend to live longer than men, strokes have a more negative impact on their lives. Women are more likely to be living alone when they have a stroke, are more likely to live in a long-term health care facility after a stroke, and have a worse recovery.
While it may seem like strokes aren’t a concern for young women, Porter’s case proves that is simply not true. Regardless of age and health, it’s important to know the symptoms of a stroke.
Common symptoms of a stroke, according to the National Stroke Association, include:
- 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
In addition, there are also specific symptoms in women:
- Loss of consciousness or fainting
- General weakness
- Difficulty or shortness of breath
- Confusion, unresponsiveness or disorientation
- Sudden behavioral change
- Nausea or vomiting
These unique symptoms can pose a problem because they are not easily recognized as stroke symptoms—as was the case for Porter. This can lead to delayed treatment, and the most effective stroke treatments are only available if the stroke is recognized and diagnosed within three hours.
Unique stroke risk factors for women include taking birth control pills, being pregnant, using hormone replacement therapy and suffering from migraine headaches with aura.
If you are with someone who you believe may be suffering from a stroke, remember the popular FAST acronym from the Stroke Association:
F – Face drooping: Ask the person to smile. Is it uneven or lopsided?
A – Arm weakness: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S – Speech difficulty: Is the person’s speech slurred? Are they unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask them to speak a simple sentence like, “The sky is blue.”
T – Time to call 911: If the person shows the above symptoms, even if they go away, call 911 and say “I think this is a stroke.” Even if you’re unsure, you should still call 911.
Porter now works for the neurosurgeon who saved her life. You can watch her describe her experience with stroke and what her life is like now in the video below.