Young Mother Experiences Stroke at Church
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Published on February 01, 2018

Jamie Gerdes and her children

Young Mother Experiences Stroke at Church

Sitting in her church’s fellowship hall, Jamie Gerdes leaned over to reach for her young daughter’s diaper bag. It was at that moment when a wave of nausea and the worst dizziness she ever encountered washed over her.

“It felt as if my head was spinning while my body was engulfed in a tornado,” said Gerdes. “My body felt numb.”

Knowing something major was happening, she passed her daughter to a friend, moved to the floor and immediately became sick.

Her husband, Derek, drove her to the Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center Emergency Department. Rushed immediately to the back, the team began administering tests to determine why a healthy mother of four in her mid-30s would experience a sudden health crisis.

“I was floored when they mentioned ‘stroke,’” said Gerdes.

Different kinds of strokes exist, such as ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes. Ischemia means lack of blood flow, and this type of stroke occurs when blood is not able to reach part of your brain due to a blockage.

A hemorrhagic stroke is caused by bleeding in your brain.

Gerdes’ stroke was the result of a vertebral artery dissection in which blood moves through a tear into the arterial wall, creating a blood clot.

“Strokes don’t hurt like a heart attack, which feels like an elephant on your chest,” said Jeffrey Boyle, MD, Avera Medical Group neurologist. “You could have a stroke in your sleep, and not even realize it.”

Strokes happen suddenly, just as Gerdes experienced. Knowing the warning signs of stroke can help everyone. An easy two-word acronym can help you identify whether you’re experiencing a stroke.


B BALANCE is lost, especially in a rapid fashion when before it was OK.

E If suddenly you lose EYESIGHT, that is often a stroke signal.

F – Check your FACE for drooping or weakness.

A – Do you have weakness in one side of your body, such as your ARM?

S – SPEECH may become slurred, or you may have difficulty finding the right words to say.

T – TIME is of the essence. Call 911 or have someone drive you to an emergency department immediately. *

The sooner you receive medical attention, the better. If you arrive at the emergency department soon enough, a “clot buster” medication can dissolve the blood clot.

Following that, other medical therapies are often needed.

Stroke symptoms, though alleviated by physical or speech therapy, can last for the rest of your life. Slurred speech, weakness or numbness, facial drooping, difficulty swallowing or walking are just a few of many possible complications following a stroke. In severe cases, some patients require constant nursing care.

“I’m so blessed; nurses and a doctor helped me during my episode at church,” said Gerdes. “I also did not have any lasting health issues that required ongoing therapy.”

“The best way to treat a stroke is to take steps to prevent it,” said Boyle.

According to Boyle, there are about four factors you should manage that aide in stroke prevention: lower high blood pressure and cholesterol, control diabetes, and stop smoking. Taking a blood thinner — an aspirin or ibuprofen, for example — may also help, but consult with your doctor beforehand; certain medications could have a negative interaction.

Also, watch for any strange after effects of traumatic events, such as a car crash or football tackle, which could contribute to a blockage. 

That’s why Gerdes encourages even younger individuals to be on the lookout for stroke symptoms. “I always tell people, ‘we have insurance for a reason.’ A stroke can happen to anyone, young and old, so don’t be afraid to see a doctor when things just aren’t right.”

* Intermountain Healthcare developed the BE FAST approach as an adaptation of the American Stroke Association's FAST model. It's reproduced with permission from Intermountain Healthcare. Copyright 2011, Intermountain Healthcare.

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