Updated: Jun 9, 2019
The death of Actor Luke Perry from a massive stroke took people by surprise, partly because Perry was only 52. The latest medical literature shows that strokes are on the rise in younger and middle-age people. According to The Centers For Disease Control 34% of people hospitalized for stroke are less than 65. A stroke can happen to you even if you are 20, 30, or 40 years old.
I don’t know all the details about Perry’s stroke, but in my case, I went down after returning from Taiwan and sitting on airplanes without getting up and walking around for about 20 hours. I had neglected to wear compression socks, which caused my lower legs and ankles to swell. That is significant because I suffered from a “transient ischemic attack” — the kind of stroke caused by a blood clot that traveled through my circulatory system and lodged in my brain, blocking the flow of blood to my brain cells and killing some of them. I learned later that I also suffer from sleep apnea which can be a factor in strokes.
The encouraging news is that while a stroke can be fatal and debilitating, they are survivable under certain conditions. I am walking proof. In my case, I collapsed in my home. Fortunately, I was not alone and my now-wife was there to call 911 and get immediate help. Otherwise, I might not be around to write this blog. The emergency medical techs who quickly arrived were first-rate, recognizing that I appeared to be suffering from a stroke. They immediately administered the drug TPA -- recombinant tissue plasminogen activator, also called alteplase. It is considered the gold standard treatment for ischemic stroke. This potent clot-busting drug ideally is given within three hours – I’m glad I was on time for once.
While strokes can strike out of the blue, they often tip their hand. Thus it’s critical to be on the lookout for these “tells.” To spot the warning signs of a stroke, experts recommend using the letters "F.A.S.T.," which stand for:
F: Face dropping: Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile to see if his/her smile is lopsided.
A: Arm weakness: Is the arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms to see if one arm drifts downward.
S: Speech difficulty: Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand?
T: Time to call 9-1-1: If someone shows any of these symptoms — even if the symptoms go away — call 9-1-1 to help get the person to the hospital immediately. FAST becomes ASAP.
Since my stroke, I’ve tried to live a healthier lifestyle, which includes more exercise, a better diet and cutting stress. I’m also trying to do more relaxing and getting more enjoyment out of life, which I know from experience is fleeting.
High on my enjoyment list is to do more traveling, which explains my new interest in writing a travel blog so I can share this experience with others. The way I figure things, surviving my stroke gave me a second chance to reorder the priorities of my life. That’s what happens when you are so close to death.
The workaday world which once seemed so important is now way down on my list, far below family and friends and life-affirming experiences. No one should want their tombstone to read, “I wish I could have spent more time at the office.” Instead, I fancy the epitaph that Ted Turner, the so-called “Mouth of the South,” who once said that he wanted these words etched above his final resting place: “I have nothing more to say.”
For me, I would like to reword mine to say, “I have nothing more I want to do.”
But grabbing life by the lapels and giving it a good shake is tough to do when you are out of shape. Life will knock you on your keister every time. Becoming and staying physically fits should be everyone’s goal, and it shouldn’t take a near-death experience like a stroke to get your behind in gear.
Tommy Barton is a travel and food blogger and the former editorial page editor of the Savannah Morning News.