Teenager's Stroke Recovery 'Miraculous': Why Do Strokes Happen To Young People?

stoke young people
Wes Schlauch, 19, uses Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) to restore connections between his muscles and parts of his brain that were damaged, following a stroke he suffered when he was 16. Schlauch family

When he was only 16 years old, Wes Schlauch of Breinigsville, Pa., suffered a stroke that paralyzed the right side of his body and left him bedridden.

But three years later, Wes is able to walk, talk, and text, in addition to attending college classes and going on fishing trips, Fox News reports.

Wes owes his miraculous recovery to a combination of his devotion to rehabilitation, good attitude, and cutting-edge technology that offers a new kind of therapy for patients suffering brain injuries, called Functional Electrical Stimulation, or FES. As part of the technique, Wes wears a device on his right hand and leg that stimulates the connections between his muscles and the damaged portion of his brain.

"The idea is that by using the electrical stimulation to make the muscle fire, his brain will retrain and relearn, and his muscles will fire more automatically without it in the long term," said Jolene Hammer, a physical therapist at Lehigh Valley Hospital in Bethlehem, Pa., who works with Wes.

The stroke was likely triggered after a hockey injury, when Wes's neck twisted and dissected, causing the walls of the artery to separate and a blood clot to form which cut blood flow to critical parts of the brain.

"His speech is also a little affected, but he can still communicate," said Rebecca Ichord, director of the pediatric stroke program at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, who treated Wes. "And his cognitive learning abilities, personality and sense of humor (were) all preserved; the thinking part is doing well and was never directly affected."

Among teenagers, strokes are incredibly rare, affecting an estimated four in 100,000 children 18 and younger, said Ichord. The vast majority of people affected by strokes are ages 65 and older. Ten to 15 percent of strokes affect people age 45 and younger. One fifth of strokes happen to people under 55.

But the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a steep increase in strokes among people in their 30s and 40s. The uptick is linked to increases in prevalance of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and sleep apnea, as well as improved diagnosis.

For young people, the majority of strokes are related to obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking. Additionally, alcohol, drugs, and tobacco all increase the likelihood of stroke in young people. A healthy lifestyle will help prevent stroke at an early age.

The health problems resulting from a stroke are worsened if the stroke is not treated immediately. Knowing the signs of stroke, monitoring for them, and getting medical treatment quickly are of utmost importance.

Signs of stroke include the following symptoms, according to the National Stroke Association.

  •  SUDDEN numbness or weakness of 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.

If you think someone you know may have experienced a stroke, try a few simple tests, using the National Stroke Association's FAST guidelines.

Face — Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

Arms — Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

Speech — Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?

Time — If you observe any of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Some stroke awareness organizations, such as We Will Win, work to bring attention to young stroke victims and to fund therapies for those who otherwise would not be able to afford them.

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