Stroke survivor aims to spread awareness in midst of National Stroke Awareness Month

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The sudden deaths of actor Luke Perry at 52 years old and director John Singleton at 51 are bringing renewed attention to strokes and how they don't only impact the elderly.

Seventy-five percent of strokes happen in people over the age of 65 but doctors say they can happen at any age.

"This is not something that happens in your sixties, seventies or eighties. It can happen when you're in your forties. It can happen in your thirties," said Andy Beal, a Raleigh online reputation consultant.

He was 44 years old last year when he suffered a massive stroke. Now, he's a stroke survivor who wants to spread the word to younger adults that strokes don't just come in old age.

It was April 19, 2018, when Beal woke up in the middle of the night to use the restroom and everything changed.

"It was about 4:20 a.m. and as I got back into bed...I collapsed. My entire right side was paralyzed," Beal said.

Beal's wife Sheila called 911. By the time paramedics arrived Beal was feeling better. The EMT's thought maybe it was a mini-stroke or vertigo and they left, and Beal was ready to go back to bed, but Sheila jumped on Google.

"(Andy) thought that everything was fine," Sheila said. "But, because I had read that you needed to get to the ER, I said 'We're going to the ER, you don't have a choice in this matter.'"

Sheila's insistence may have saved her husband's life.

WakeMed North ambulanced him to WakeMed Main where things quickly got worse.

"So then when I was in the ER getting examined by the ER doctor, the massive stroke hit me while I was talking to her and the entire right side of my body was completely paralyzed," Beal described. "Except this time it was a major stroke and I had to be airlifted to Duke Hospital."

It was an ischemic stroke, the most common.

There was not just one but two blockages to the arteries in his brain. Just a trickle of blood was flowing in to keep his brain alive.

"I was droopy on the right side. I could not move," Beal said. "I could move my little finger, and I could move maybe a toe. And that's all I could move on this side."

Beal's doctors at Duke moved fast. They rushed him in for a relatively new stroke procedure- an endovascular thrombectomy.

"They go in through the groin. They go up they just pull out the both clots. They put in a stent in my carotid artery," Beal recounted.

And it worked.

"Two days after they did that I walked out of the hospital unassisted, and the day after I drove the car," he said. "The day after that I was back at work. it's a miracle."

Beal and the experts say we all need to know the warning signs of stroke:

The helpful acronym is F.A.S.T.

  • F for facial drooping
  • A for arm weakness
  • S for speech difficulty
  • T for time

If you notice these symptoms, you have to move fast because time is critical.

Also, know your family history. Even if your family has a clean bill of health there can be genetic factors that increase your risk.

You should know those now - before the warning signs even come into play.

May is National Stroke Awareness Month.
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