Twenty-six-year-old fitness instructor Kelsey Englert was lucky.
Husband Mark Englert noticed one side of her face was drooping after she collapsed on Mother’s Day last year in their Waikapu, Maui, home. He pushed for tests at the hospital where a nurse thought Kelsey Englert was merely dehydrated.
Mark Englert realized his wife had suffered a stroke and got her the right treatment.
Her case illustrates the American Heart Association’s message: A stroke can happen to anyone, regardless of age, gender or ethnicity. It is the third leading cause of death in Hawaii and the leading cause of long-term disability.
Islanders are urged to recognize the symptoms and immediately call 911. Guidelines call for patients to arrive at a hospital within 4 1/2 hours after symptoms begin to receive the clot-busting drug tissue plasminogen activator, the gold standard treatment for stroke.
Recalling her experience in a recent interview, Englert said, "I was getting my daughter ready for church upstairs in my house, and all of a sudden I started feeling really, really dizzy. I didn’t think much of it because I found out a few weeks before that I was pregnant, and I was really nauseous."
A stroke occurs when a blood vessel carrying oxygen and nutrients to the brain is blocked either by a clot or bursts, says the American Stroke Association, a division of the American Heart Association.
The disease can be prevented, but it is increasing globally because some risk factors remain uncontrolled in most people, according to the association.
Knowing the signs of a stroke and immediately calling 911 can save a life or long-term disability, says the American Stroke Association.
» Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
She told her husband she thought she had vertigo and started walking down the stairs. He was at the bottom and caught her when she fell over, she said. "He looked at my face and noticed paralysis on one side.
"I kept telling him it was not a big deal, but he knew from the beginning."
When they wheeled her into Maui Memorial Medical Center, she told the nurse she was pregnant and really sick. "She said, ‘You must be really dehydrated. We’ll just hook you up to an IV and get some fluids in you.’"
Her husband rushed in a few minutes later and said "absolutely not" when told she was dehydrated. "He grabbed someone and said, ‘Look at her face,’ pointing out what was wrong."
Interventional neuroradiologist Christopher Neal was called in, and he did MRI and CAT scans. He discovered a blood clot in her brain and the cause: a small hole in her heart she did not know she had.
Because she arrived so quickly at the hospital after her symptoms began, she was able to receive the clot-dissolving drug. Since she was eight weeks pregnant, she said the physician inserted a catheter through her leg directly to the clot in her brain so the smallest amount of drug could be used.
About three weeks later she flew to Honolulu for heart surgery at Straub Clinic & Hospital.
Her baby was born Dec. 27, and "she’s perfect," said Englert. Isabella joined two sisters, Aliyah, 6, and Sienna, 2.
Englert, who turned 27 in February, said she does not think she has fully recovered—her left side is not as strong as it used to be—but she returned to work teaching spinning as a fitness instructor and personal trainer at the Powerhouse Gym in Kihei.
She also has been going to meetings with women who run the heart association’s Go Red for Women on Maui to share her experience and help educate other women about their risk for cardiovascular disease.
She said her stroke was "really hard" on her family and her husband’s family, all of whom live on Maui. "It was pretty amazing, the realization for everybody that I was only 26. Everything happened really fast."
She credits her husband for recognizing her symptoms.
"Whenever I tell my story, everyone wants to meet my husband. He gets a lot of attention."