17-year-old KC stroke victim shares story of survival, encourages awareness for teens

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — May is National Stroke Awareness Month, and one metro man is hoping to educate others on the disease, no matter their age.

“I was at home, and out of nowhere, I couldn’t walk straight. I struggled to even stand up. I started to fall and lean against a wall. From there I knew something wasn’t right,” Darryl Hunter said.

Eleven years ago, when 17-year old Darryl woke up, he said he remembered something was wrong.

He was rushed to the emergency room, and even doctors had a hard time diagnosing him.

“They actually said, ‘He’s a teenager.’ They believed he could have gotten a hold of some kind of drug. But my husband and I, we knew better,” said Lisa Hunter, Darryl’s mother.

Hours went by, and Lisa said she had to fight for thorough tests and a MRI.

“They already had discharge papers for Darryl, and what really caught their attention from my perspective — they stood him up to take him to the bathroom, and then he fell down. His legs were like noodles. And so, if I would have accepted that, I don’t even want to think about the possible outcome,” Lisa said.

Further testing revealed her son had a stroke in the back part of his brain.

Hunter lost function on the right side of his body and was told he would never walk again.

After what Hunter’s mother describes as less than satisfactory treatment at the local emergency room and hospital, his parents would transfer him to St. Luke’s hospital for further treatment, and hopes of a successful recovery.

Within six months, after grueling therapy, he was able to regain full function. He even walked at graduation.

Doctors said it’s not always that easy.

“Given the fact that he was 18 years old, his brain was much more amenable to repair and recovery than someone in their 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s,” said Dr. Brad Steinle, medical director of rehabilitation at St. Luke’s Hospital.

Steinle helped in Darryl’s recovery and said he’s seeing more and more strokes happen in younger patients.

“We see maybe one in 10, one in 20 are young people who have had strokes. We have seen patients as young as 18, 20’s, 30’s who have had strokes who appear otherwise healthy,” Steinle said.

He said the key is to recognize the symptoms, like facial drooping, slurred speech and numbness.

For Hunter, he now wants to raise awareness that this can happen — even to the healthiest of teens.

“I think sometimes we take for granted and think it can’t happen to me. I think it’s important to go to the emergency room, to recognize the fact that it’s a stroke, and advocate for yourself,” Hunter said.

Doctors encourage people to immediately seek treatment if they believe they are having a stroke. They say earlier detection can help prevent irreversible damage.

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