Young stroke survivor from Wyandotte working to raise awareness about warning signs

Almost 30% of adults under 45 don’t know symptoms of stroke, officials say

WYANDOTTE, Mich. – A Wyandotte woman, who suffered a stroke in her early thirties, is now dedicated to raising awareness about strokes among young individuals and educating people about the warning signs they should recognize.

Sarah Rood, then 32, was at home in Wyandotte, getting ready to go to a hockey game, when something odd happened.

“All of a sudden, my arm from about here down just went completely numb to the point that I had to like pick it back up, which was really strange,” Rood said.

She initially thought it could be caused by her anxiety.

“It was concerning, but it was just kind of, you know, maybe it’s a panic attack. Maybe there’s something that I’m nervous about that I’m just not, you know, visualizing,” Rood said.

It would have been easy to brush it off. But Rood called her mom anyway and told her, something didn’t feel right.

“I told her, ‘My hand went numb. I had to pick it up.’ And then as I was on the phone with her, my speech started slurring,” Rood said. “As soon as my speech started slurring, it was really to the point where you know, something isn’t right. And this is definitely an emergency.”

They called 911.

“I remember having the words so clearly that I thought I was trying to say and the words coming out were just random,” Rood said. “The EMS came, they looked at me. They didn’t think it was a stroke at first. My vital signs were okay. It was the typical like, ‘Well, you’re young, you know, you’re healthy. Maybe it’s Bell’s palsy and you just have the numbness.’”

At the hospital, doctors ordered a CT scan.

“I just remember them coming in pretty quickly and throwing the bed back, and it was like, ‘We found a clot in your brain. You need to lay flat. We’re going to transfer you to Henry Ford downtown.’ So that was kind of the big moment of like something isn’t okay,” Rood said.

Her first thought was to call a friend to care for her beloved dogs Rory and Captain.

She was hospitalized for five days, but numerous tests found no explanation for the blood clot in her brain.

“Just kind of chalked it up to like, ‘Yes, there was a clot. We don’t really know why, we don’t know what caused it, but you know it’s there. You’re okay to go home on blood thinners and checkups,’” Rood said.

Through it all, Rood had one recurring thought.

“I just kept thinking, ‘I’m too young for this to happen. Like why did this happen? There’s no good reason, and I’m too young,’” Rood said. “It was a big lesson. You’re not too young. It can happen to anyone. It can happen to you if you think you’re completely healthy and you can be completely healthy other than that.”

Rood is far from alone. Doctors are seeing increasing numbers of strokes in younger patients.

According to the American Heart Association, up to 15% of the nearly 795,000 people in the United States who have a stroke each year are between the ages of 18 and 45. Stroke-related hospitalizations have increased by more than 40% among younger adults in the past several decades.

It’s not clear what’s driving the increase. Experts say some of it may be linked to increases in inactivity, obesity, high pressure, diabetes, and drug use. But none of that applies to Rood or countless other young stroke patients.

Another key issue -- stroke awareness is not keeping pace with the rising risk. Research published by the American Heart Association found almost 30% of adults under 45 don’t know the five most common symptoms of a stroke.

It’s been over a year since Rood’s stroke. With the support of family and close friends, she has recovered.

“Took care of my dogs, anything that I needed, kept me entertained,” Rood said. “I couldn’t have done it without them.”

Rood ran a half marathon before the stroke. She’s run three more since and is now training for a full marathon this fall.

The stroke was also a turning point professionally. Rood is now the communications director for the American Heart Association.

“That’s one of the things that really drove me to look for a career with the American Heart Association was helping get that message out,” Rood said.

Rood credits her mom for knowing the symptoms of a stroke and the quick action to take.

“All my friends were like, ‘I don’t know that I would have known all those. We don’t think of it happening to us,’” Rood said.

These are the signs that Rood wants everyone -- of all ages -- to learn.

“The acronym is FAST. So it’s face drooping. Arms, you want to make sure one isn’t dropping, and speech slurring, if your speech starts slurring, or if you just have trouble like finding the words or it gets really slow like you feel like you can’t talk at a normal speed, and then T is time for time to call 911.”

Rood is grateful for her mom’s fast thinking. She now has a tattoo symbolizing what she’s overcome. It simply says “stronger.”

“It has the stroke and heart ribbon, and it’s actually written in my mom’s handwriting. So it’s just a reminder that, you know, you are stronger, you can do it,” Rood said.

To learn more about strokes and the warning signs, visit the American Stroke Association’s website by clicking here.

To help support heart and stroke research and awareness, join the 2023 Metro Detroit Heart and Stroke Walk & 5K on Saturday, June 3 at Comerica Park in Detroit. For more details or to register, click here.