Stroke affects young people more and more

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Young stroke survivor runs local support group

Most young people don’t have a stroke, right? Well, not quite. The incidence of stroke in people aged 20-64 jumped by a quarter between 1990 and 2010, a recent study found.

Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death and a leading cause of long-term disability in the United States.

A stroke occurs when blood vessels that carry oxygen to the brain become blocked or burst. When the brain cannot get enough oxygen, brain cells begin to die, causing disability and sometimes death. Nearly 80 percent of strokes are caused by a blockage from a blood clot or plaque. The other 20 percent results from bleeding.

For Lori Murphy, who was 31 when she experienced a stroke, finding a support group after her stroke was among the obstacles she faced. So she created one.

“I felt like there was a need for reaching out to other people my age who had a stroke,” Murphy said. Through Northside Hospital, Murphy helps run a free monthly support group for young stroke survivors, 35 and under. The common misconception that strokes only happen to the elderly can lead to delayed care. In Murphy’s case, doctors were caught by surprise.

“There’s no way that a 31-year-old female would be having a stroke,” she recalled doctors in the emergency room of a Savannah hospital saying. This was eight years ago and Murphy says doctors have come a long way since.

“It’s unfortunate and it’s one of the things that comes with being young,” Murphy said. “Young people are having strokes more and more and it’s no longer being overlooked.”

After the stroke, Murphy had to re-learn many skills. What she used to consider simple tasks, like putting her hair in a ponytail, slipping on a pair of flip-flops, or cooking a meal for herself, became challenges that required a lot of concentration.

In addition to the physical complications, a stroke also has a social impact. Relationships between friends can become strained, she said. That’s why support groups are so crucial to the rehabilitation process.

Murphy, who is now 39, is able to drive herself and do the things that she needs to survive, but it took time.

“There is life after stroke, and I’m thankful that I have amazing parents as my caregivers, and I also have great doctors as well, here in the Atlanta area,” Murphy said. “I still don’t have the fine motor skills in my left hand, but my body learns to adapt. It only continues to get better with time.”

The young stroke survivors group meets at 6:30 p.m. on the third Monday of each month to promote knowledge, psychological well-being and successful adjustment. 

Groups are facilitated by a registered nurse. Registration is not required to attend the meetings, which take place at the Northside/Interchange Professional Building, 5780 Peachtree Dunwoody Road in Sandy Springs, Ga. 30342. Upcoming dates include: May 18; June 15; July 20; August 17; etc…

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