By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS
At 23, Brent Wylie was a recent college graduate working in real estate investment and making plans for law school.
On a Friday night in August 2011, he was on his way to meet up with friends at an Atlanta nightclub, talking on the phone with one of them as he walked down the street.
“My friend said, ‘Hey, are you OK? You sound funny.’ I told him I was fine, and we hung up. Then I just fell face down on the sidewalk,” Wylie said.
At first, Wylie thought he had tripped. But he couldn’t get back up.
“There were so many people around, but nobody came to help me,” he said. “I think they thought I was drunk.”
Security guards from the nightclub came over and initially suspected he was on drugs. But Wylie was adamant that didn’t know what was going on.
Then one of the security guards noticed his left arm was moving in an unusual way. “He said, ‘I think you’ve had a stroke,’” Wylie remembers.
Paramedics were called and once in the ambulance, Wylie’s head began to ache fiercely.
“It felt like somebody was hammering my skull,” he said.
Medical tests at the hospital revealed he had indeed suffered a stroke and had significant swelling in his brain.
“One of the hardest things was just wrapping my head around the fact that I’d had a stroke,” Wylie said.
A friend called Wylie’s mom, Karen Coursey-Wylie, who was at a conference in Tennessee with her sister. Both women immediately caught a flight to Atlanta.
“I just got in his hospital bed with him,” said Karen. “I just wanted to hold him and tell him everything would be all right.”
The swelling in Wylie’s brain continued, and doctors determined that a craniotomy – removing part of the skull to relieve the pressure without damaging his brain – would be necessary. After the surgery, Wylie began to recover slowly.
“I had always thought of older folks having strokes, not 23-year-olds,” Karen said. “We had no family history and Brent was healthy his whole life. I realize now that this can happen to anybody.”
He was transferred to a rehabilitation center, where he stayed for about six weeks.
“After having a stroke, your entire life changes,” Wylie said. “You have to learn how to do everything again.”
After leaving the rehab center, Wylie moved to Philadelphia, where he’d grown up and where his mom still lived. “I don’t know where I’d be without my mom,” he said. “She’s been the driving force behind my recovery.”
Wylie continues outpatient therapy and is expected to fully recover. He has become active in the stroke community through the Young Empowerment Stroke Support, or YESS, organization, which offers support and education for younger stroke victims.
Wylie is also starting his own nonprofit called Team Brent at the Stroke of Midnight to raise awareness about stroke and help survivors through mentoring. He also urges people to address risk factors within their control, such as smoking and diet.
“It keeps getting better,” he said. “You hope that the good days outweigh the bad days, and you keep hope alive.”
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Photos courtesy of Brent Wylie and Karen Coursey-Wylie