Skylar Doerwaldt - October 29th is World Stroke Day.
Skylar Doerwaldt is a stroke survivor and advocate in Richmond, VA. She works full time in new home construction and spends her free time helping the AHA in various roles, including Co-Chairing the Young Professionals Committee, as well as serving on CycleNation Committee in Richmond and Heart Ball Auction Committee in Charlottesville. She has spoken at several events and recently took her advocacy to You're the Cure on the Hill in Washington, DC. Next month, she's looking forward to running the Richmond 8K, her first race post-stroke! She writes in recognition of World Stroke Day.
If you’d ask me what I knew about strokes 5 years ago, I would have told you that it’s something that happens in older individuals, like my grandmother. I would have told you they are caused by blood clots or hemorrhages and that one symptom of a stroke is a droopy face. To be honest, I didn’t know much, so when I found myself at the age of 24 with a droopy face and my friend suggested I was having a stroke, I slurred out, “I’m too young to have a stroke.”
Oh my, I was so wrong. Luckily for me, my friend convinced me to go to the hospital immediately, where a blood clot was found in my right PCA (posterior cerebral artery). I received a clot busting medicine called TPA (tissue plasminogen activator) and my doctors set to work trying to find the cause of my clot. They found that the clot was caused by an interior tear in an artery in my neck called a cervical artery dissection. To this day, they are unsure what caused my artery to tear.
The first year of recovery was very hard. I don’t remember much of that year. But once I started to regain my strength, I made it a sort of mission to share my story because if I, as a fit and healthy young adult, could suffer a stroke, then anyone I know could too. I’ve held fundraisers, spoken at events, chaired committees, and posted on social media so much that I’m certain I sometimes annoy my friends. I got a tattoo of my stroke on my arm, which has proven to be a great conversation starter. And last week, I went to Capitol Hill with AHA’s You’re the Cure on the Hill, to share my story with the offices of my Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, as well my representative Donald McEachin.
When I got home from DC last weekend, I received a message from an old friend. His father had suffered a stroke and he was reaching out to thank me for all the stroke awareness I’ve done. Without it, he said, he wouldn’t have known what to do. As the years pass since my stroke, it was such a reminder of how important it is to raise awareness.
A stroke can truly happen to anyone, at anytime, anywhere. Stroke is the leading cause of disability worldwide and the fifth leading cause of death in the United States. The lifetime risk of stroke is currently 1 in 4. While I could not have prevented my stroke, most strokes can be prevented by addressing risk factors such as diet, exercise, hypertension, and smoking.
I hope today that you’ll join with me to both raise awareness and take steps within your own life to decrease your chance of having a stroke.