B.C. woman credits this acronym with saving her life after a stroke

Click to play video: 'Number of strokes on the rise in Canada, study shows'
Number of strokes on the rise in Canada, study shows
WATCH: Number of strokes on the rise in Canada, study shows – Jun 4, 2024

Quick thinking saved the life of Melissa Wing, a 29-year-old grad student in Victoria, B.C. She credits her knowledge of stroke symptoms for her swift action.

In July 2023, while chatting with friends at a goodbye party on a beach, Wing suddenly felt her face droop on the right side as she turned to look at her partner.

She remembers saying, “I don’t feel good, I think I am having a stroke.”

They immediately went to the hospital. Wing’s stroke symptoms progressed rapidly. While her initial presentation was facial drooping, she said within half an hour she also lost mobility in her right arm and hand, with worsening facial droop, and eventually lost her ability to speak.

“I was in the ER, saw a doctor within 20 minutes, was within an MRI machine within an hour, and was given the medication I needed within the critical four-hour mark,” Wing told Global News.

Story continues below advertisement
Melissa Wing and her partner Cole. Melissa Wing

In Canada, a stroke occurs once every five minutes, a troubling trend that is on the rise not only among older Canadians but also among young people, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

To mark Stroke Month in June, the foundation released statistics on Tuesday, showing there are more than 108,000 stroke cases every year in the country. The latest numbers also reveal nearly one million individuals in Canada are currently grappling with the aftermath of a stroke and it is the primary contributor to adult disability.

The number of strokes continues to rise at a concerning rate each year, according to experts.

“It’s increasing, the actual total number of strokes occurring in Canada and in most of the Western world,” said Dr. Michael Hill, a neurologist based in Calgary, in an interview with Global News.

Story continues below advertisement

“Stroke can occur at any age. The highest peak is about in the first year of life in the pediatric age group. And then it does progressively occur more commonly as you get older. And that’s because the common risk factors like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, diabetes are more prevalent as you get older. But it’s still true that for people in their 20s, … it’s the most common major neurological condition.”

The latest health and medical news emailed to you every Sunday.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation attributes this rise to two key factors: a growing elder population (since age is a major stroke risk); and an increase in risk factors among younger demographics. These risk factors include high blood pressure, diabetes, unhealthy diets and a lack of physical activity.

Click to play video: 'Daily Aspirin reduces chance of 2nd heart attack, stroke: Study'
Daily Aspirin reduces chance of 2nd heart attack, stroke: Study

An acronym that can save a life

Although stroke cases are increasing, the awareness surrounding the symptoms of stroke is also rising, Hill explained. And recognizing the signs of a stroke and acting quickly can mean the difference between life and death, or the difference between a better recovery and a lasting disability, he added.

Story continues below advertisement

“The hopeful trend here is that more and more people seem to understand basic signs and symptoms of stroke and then can call for help,” Hill said.

“And that’s important because over the last couple of decades, there’s a revolutionary change, in that stroke can be treated acutely. So if we’re going to treat people in the first hour or hours after they’ve had a stroke event, we have to see them quickly.”

Thankfully, both Melissa and her partner, Cole, were well-versed in first aid. Recognizing the symptoms, she said she immediately recalled the “FAST” acronym, a tool for identifying potential strokes.

In entails:

  • Face – is it drooping?
  • Arms – can you raise both?
  • Speech – Is it slurred or jumbled?
  • Time to call 911 right away.

When Wing lost her ability to speak, she said it felt like she was trapped in her head.

“It was it was really scary. Especially when I lost my ability to speak,” she said. “So all the words were up in my head, but I just couldn’t get them to come out of my mouth. I couldn’t translate them, into speaking words.”

Multiple tests revealed the culprit behind Wing’s stroke: a previously undetected heart condition. This stroke likely led to the discovery of the condition, which she said might otherwise have gone unnoticed.

Story continues below advertisement

“So, in a weird way, I’m very lucky,” she said.

Wing said she is in much better health nearly one year after her stroke. Melissa Wing

Wing’s takeaway from experiencing a stroke at a young age? It can happen to anyone, she said. This underscores the critical importance of recognizing the symptoms of stroke.

“The FAST acronym … in a weird way kind of saved my life, and has the ability to save other people’s lives. The only reason why I knew I was having a stroke was because I knew that acronym. Otherwise, I think I would have just brushed it off because I’m so young.”

Time is critical in stroke treatment, Dr. Hill stressed. The faster a patient receives care, the better the outcome.

“If I can treat someone in the first hour, they may be able to walk out of the hospital the next day,” he said. “Whereas if I’m treating someone six to eight hours after stroke onset, then almost certainly they’ve got some damage.”

Story continues below advertisement

Wing spent four days in the hospital and recovered. And nearly one year later she said she is optimistic about her future.

“I continue my life like I did pre-stroke, which is fantastic. And I am very grateful and very lucky that I’ve had such minimal, long-lasting effects,” she said.

Sponsored content