By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS
Jasmine Harris had a stroke six months before her high school graduation.
It started with a headache a couple days before Christmas. The family from Raleigh, North Carolina, had spent the day volunteering so her mother, La’Wana Harris, assumed her 17-year-old daughter was just tired.
But the headache didn’t go away after taking a pain reliever. Then, the day after Christmas, she began vomiting in the middle of the night. La’Wana figured it was a stomach virus.
La’Wana was picking up ginger ale and crackers the next morning when she got a frantic call from Jasmine.
“It was just gibberish, and I realized she could be having a stroke,” said La’Wana, who raced home and found Jasmine upstairs “with a look on her face of sheer terror and confusion.”
“I felt completely lost, and I wasn’t sure how I got where I was,” Jasmine said. “I kept trying to tell my mom something wasn’t right, but all that was coming out was mumbled words.”
La’Wana drove Jasmine to a nearby hospital and demanded the triage nurse get them immediate help. The American Heart Association recommends people call 911 immediately if they experience stroke symptoms such as face drooping, arm weakness or speech difficulty.
“Once they took her blood pressure, they called the code and doctors and nurses came running from everywhere,” La’Wana said.
Testing showed Jasmine had a blood clot toward the back of her brain, along with a hemorrhage near her temple. Jasmine was put on life support and transported to Duke Children’s Hospital in Durham.
Jasmine lost consciousness soon after arriving at the hospital and was put under sedation. She woke up three days later.
Her speech and mobility were limited, and she struggled with short- and long-term memory.
Doctors aren’t sure what caused Jasmine’s stroke. Such cases are referred to as cryptogenic strokes, which account for an estimated 30 percent of strokes caused by a blood clot.
Stroke is the nation’s No. 5 cause of death and a leading cause of disability among U.S. adults. Although the rate of stroke deaths fell 38 percent between 2000 and 2015, that pace has slowed for African-Americans since 2012, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. African-Americans are most likely to die from stroke, the report said.
Following her stroke, Jasmine underwent outpatient therapy to rebuild muscle strength and help her body relearn how to do everyday activities.
“I remember laughing and crying at the same time when I first tried to go up the stairs,” Jasmine said. “I just couldn’t get my body to understand how to do it.”
Household duties shifted, with Jasmine’s father, Eddie Harris Sr., taking over the cooking and other chores so that La’Wana, who took time off work, could pour herself into helping Jasmine recover, advocating for her care, learning about new therapies and trying to understand more about stroke.
“I just couldn’t believe this could happen to someone so young,” said La’Wana, whose two older sons, Eddie Harris Jr. and Malcolm Harris, were away at college at the time. “The physical and emotional toll was incredible.”
La’Wana grappled with anxiety, not knowing whether a full recovery would be possible for Jasmine and navigating the ups and downs of the months that followed.
“Being a caregiver, it’s a huge responsibility, but it’s also an honor,” La’Wana said.
“It was so much more than the event that happened to her brain. I also had to hold her heart during that time, because not everyone around her knew how to respond. It was difficult for her to come to grips with what happened to her.”
Jasmine was able to graduate high school on time and attend the Art Institute of Charlotte, where she pursued a major in fashion marketing.
Now 22, Jasmine said the experience has motivated her to make lifestyle changes to protect her heart and brain health, including avoiding the junk food she favored as a teen, eating more, drinking water instead of soda and getting plenty of exercise.
Lifestyle changes are part of the plan that stroke survivors should develop with their doctors to prevent a second stroke, according to the AHA. Medications to manage stroke risk factors and the addition of a blood-thinning drug such as aspirin may also be part of the tailored prevention plan.
After taking a break from school to have her son, Jaden, who is now 2, Jasmine is now taking classes online and starting a mentor program called A Queens Etiquette to help teen girls handle peer pressure and bullying, and develop good study habits in preparation for college.
“Even though I know I had a stroke, my mom was always encouraging me and telling me not to be afraid,” Jasmine said. “If I didn’t have my mom there to support me, I don’t think I could be where I am today.”
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