Stroke at any age

Jesse Moore’s daughter loves Disney Princesses, and the Wichita stay-at-home dad knows all of their names.

“There’s Tiana, Snow White, Ariel, Aurora …” he says, pointing to the figurines Rachel has lined up on the living room coffee table. “…Belle, Jasmine, Pocahontas, Mulan. I can sing all of their songs if you want me to.”

While typical for many parents, this knowledge and recitation is remarkable for Jesse, who suffered a life-threatening stroke at age 34.

As Jesse prepared to leave with Rachel, then age 2, after a cousins play date at his mother-in-law’s house on Sept. 1, 2011, he experienced confusing sensations.

“My arm felt strange, like someone was touching me,” he says. “I couldn’t get Rachel in the car seat. I couldn’t turn the ignition key. I started sweating profusely.”

Jesse and his wife Angela, a family medicine physician, say the series of events that happened next saved his life.

Mother-in-law Judy, a former cardiac nurse, took one look at Jesse and recognized signs of stroke. The right side of his face drooped. He was drooling and couldn’t talk. She helped him inside and called 911. Angela's father, Tommy, called her and told her to come immediately.

“I thought, ‘She’s wrong,’” Angela says. “’He’s 34. He can’t have had a stroke.’”

But Angela knew better than to doubt her mother’s nursing background. She told them to have the paramedics take Jesse to Via Christi’s Stroke Center. She arrived at the house as Jesse was being loaded into the ambulance.

“I thought he was dead,” says Angela about the severity of Jesse’s symptoms. “I thought, ‘I’m going to be a single mother. What am I going to do?’”

The otherwise healthy father who loves playing “prince and princess” with his daughter and enjoys sports like volleyball, BMX biking and golf, also was worried.

“I could still process what was happening but I couldn’t respond,” he says. “I couldn’t figure out how to tell Angela I was OK.”

She grabbed his hand. It’s the last thing he remembers clearly.

Roughly every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke. People of all ages are vulnerable, despite seemingly good health. In fact, the risk of stroke is increasing faster in individuals ages 30-45 than in any other age group.

What is PFO?

Approximately 1 in 5 Americans has a patent foramen ovale (PFO) and many don't know until after a stroke occurs. All people are born with flap-like openings in their hearts and the opening usually closes by itself shortly after birth. In some people, an open flap remains in the heart. This opening can allow a blood clot to travel through the flap and to the brain, causing a stroke. (stroke.org)

Check out our stroke risk scorecard (pdf) to assess your stroke risk

When Jesse arrived at the Emergency Room at Via Christi Hospital on St. Francis, the Acute Stroke Response Team was waiting. Because every minute two million brain cells die during a stroke, they knew immediate treatment was critical toward his recovery and long-term outcome.

Jim Walker, MD, medical director of the Stroke Center, explained treatment options and risks to Angela. Testing confirmed Jesse was eligible for a clot-busting drug called tissue plasminogen activator — tPA.

It was a quick decision for Angela. Her medical training and practical nature made it easy.

“I said ‘Give him the tPA,’” she recalls. “Even if there was only a 15 percent chance it would help, I knew there was a 100 percent chance he would die if we did nothing.”

Jesse received tPA 38 minutes after arrival in the ER — record timing for the Stroke Response Team. Only an hour had passed since his ordeal began, Angela says.

“The most amazing thing was, within 15 minutes he was verbalizing and moving his hand,” she says. “He made rapid improvements before he was even sent upstairs. By 11 that night he could hold his arms out.”

Wherever Jesse is foggy about his 5-day hospitalization, Angela helps him remember. They laugh about funny things he did and said. Although he recovered quickly, he recalls he had fears.

“I wondered about long-term damage, if I’d be paralyzed in some area or unable to talk again,” he says.

He learned that a hole in his heart called a patent foramen ovale — PFO — allowed a clot to pass to his brain, causing the stroke. A special filter was surgically placed to prevent more strokes and he was able to be dismissed straight to home, whereas some stroke survivors require inpatient rehabilitation for recovery.

Once at home, the self-professed “computer geek” says he struggled with his favorite computer games. His only residual effects now are occasional problems recalling dates and times, names or word associations — especially when he’s tired. But he’s been told that’s normal, that it could take eight months to a year to fully recover.

Jesse, Angela and Rachel recently took the vacation of a lifetime — a 5-day Disney cruise celebrating their 10-year wedding anniversary and Rachel’s third birthday.

“I feel like I got a second chance,” Jesse says.