By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

0421_SFTH_Nicole Enteado_Blog

Nicole Enteado woke up on Nov. 29, 2014, thinking about a fun day of holiday shopping she had planned. But after about a half hour of lounging around, a strange sensation suddenly came over her.

“It was almost like feeling drunk,” she said, adding that she also began drooling.

She reached for a glass of water, but her dominant left hand wouldn’t move. Using her right hand, she took a swig, only have it dribble down her chin.

Confused, Enteado made her way to the bathroom, her legs feeling oddly heavy. Looking in the mirror, she saw the left side of her face was drooping.

Although she was experiencing all the classic symptoms of stroke, Enteado didn’t realize it.

“I was 26 and healthy and active. There was no way I could be having a stroke,” said Enteado, who lives in Newport, Rhode Island.

Panicked, she called her parents, but by then her speech sounded garbled. Her parents thought it might be an allergic reaction so a friend drove Enteado to her parents’ home 20 minutes away. They took her to the nearest hospital, where testing revealed she was having a stroke.

By then, nearly three hours had passed since her symptoms first began. Enteado’s speech was completely gone and her left side was paralyzed.

Enteado was given a clot-busting medication called tPA, which must be given within the first 4 1/2 hours after the onset of stroke symptoms, and transferred to a larger regional hospital.

Over the next two days, the feeling on Enteado’s left side returned, along with her speech. She spent a week in the hospital, and then another six weeks rebuilding her strength at home through yoga.

It was a bumpy recovery, as Enteado overcame lingering weakness and grappled with what had happened to her.

“You think of yourself as healthy, but it was like my body had failed me,” she said.

She experienced anxiety, which is common among stroke survivors.

“My mom compared me to a skittish cat,” she said. “I just kept worrying it would happen again. I had to keep reminding myself that I know the signs and symptoms now, and I can’t let the fear of another stroke keep me from living my life.”

It took about six months for her to feel normal again; Enteado still remembers the relief she felt the day it happened.

“It was a Friday evening and I was coming home and feeling really good,” she said. “I realized that I finally felt like myself again.”

Enteado’s doctors aren’t sure what caused her stroke, but pointed to her history of migraines and use of birth control pills as potential contributors. Throughout her life, Enteado suffered from constant headaches that would develop into debilitating migraines several times a year.

“My mom got them and my grandmother got them, so I didn’t realize that wasn’t normal,” she said.

Enteado now works with a neurologist to prevent migraines, which unexpectedly became more frequent following her stroke. She also takes blood thinners to minimize the risk of another stroke.

The only other lingering effect from her stroke is mild numbness that can make it difficult to control the left side of her face when she’s overly tired, though it has been subsiding with time.

Stroke is the fifth-leading killer of Americans, and a leading cause of disability. The experience has motivated Enteado, now 27, to raise stroke awareness in hopes that others will recognize the symptoms – face drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulty – and call 911 quickly, no matter their age.

Looking back, Enteado said she now realizes she wasted valuable time by going first to her parents’ house when her symptoms began.

“Knowing what I know now, I would have gone straight to the hospital,” she said.

Enteado works for jewelry and accessory brand Alex and Ani. Inspired by Enteado’s experience and stories from other stroke survivors, the company released a special bangle, available Wednesday, evoking a butterfly motif called “Wings of Change.” Alex and Ani will donate 20 percent of the purchase price to the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. The company’s “Best Friends” bangle, released in 2012 to commemorate heart health, has generated more than $3 million for AHA.

The experience changed Enteado’s perspective on life, helping her to let go of the little things that used to stress her out.

“I realized how easy it is to take life for granted,” she said, “so now I try to live life every day with a positive attitude and be grateful for this second chance.”

Video courtesy of Alex and Ani