KANSAS CITY, Mo. — May is Stroke Awareness Month.

Spotting the signs fast could save a life, there’s research to prove it. But imagine being behind the wheel when a stroke strikes. That happened to one Kansas City woman.

“You guys saved me,” stroke survivor Merly McMurry said. “You see, I’m up and well.”

Not two weeks ago, McMurry was in a St. Luke’s procedure room after suffering a stroke.

“I could not speak, I was paralyzed,” McMurry said. “In less than a few hours I was back to normal. It’s amazing.”

The 72-year-old was driving. Her best friend in the passenger seat noticed McMurry was not acting right — making faint grunting and laughing noises.

She helped McMurry pullover and put the car in park. By then, McMurry could not smile of life her right arm.

“It all seemed to be eerie to me, but I did not feel bad. I did not have a headache. I had driven all the way back from Branson,” McMurry said.

She was taken to St. Luke’s where doctors used a clot buster drug. Scans showed there was a clot in her brain. An interventional neurologist was able to remove the clot, reversing the stroke.

McMurry’s friend recognized the signs after seeing a Stroke Awareness Month article online.

“They kept saying she saved you, she saved your life,” McMurry said.

Deaths among people hospitalized have gone down over the last decade.

Doctors believe that could be because people are noticing the signs and technology has improved.

Remember this acronym: BE FAST: Balance, Eyes, Face, Arms, Speech and the all-important Time.

“We lose about 32,000 for every second that the brain is deprived of oxygen,” Dr. Karin Olds said. “Brain cells don’t regenerate.”

Olds said if a lot of time passes, people could end up with paralysis, trouble with vision, understanding words or speaking.

“That’s what I do remember them saying, we’ve got to hurry,” McMurry said. “When I see my friends now they’re going i don’t believe you had a stroke and I’m like I don’t either.”

McMurry credits her friend, God and the medical staff at St. Luke’s with saving her life.

Now, she and the doctor have the same warning to others.

“Don’t waste time,” McMurry said.

“Time is a brain,” McMurry said. “So, it’s very important that you get help right away if you think you’re having a stroke.”

An increase in strokes among young adults has caught the eyes of doctors.

Since 2007, stroke hospitalizations among younger adults increased nearly 50%, according to a new study and the American Heart Association News.

Olds is the Stroke Medical Director at St. Luke’s Neuroscience Institute.

She said there could be several reasons for the increase.

“We know that young people are also more likely to have high blood pressure, high cholesterol diabetes, than they used to,” Olds said. “So, we see some of the classic risk factors among patients and we see other etiologies of stroke as well.”

The data also shows an alarming increase in hospitalizations among women — they went up 78%.
That’s compared to a 58% rise in stroke hospitalizations for men.

Olds said estrogen containing birth control pills, smoking and high blood pressure are a recipe for increased risk.

“Smoking, if you don’t smoke, don’t start. And if you do, please stop,” Olds said. “We think perhaps up to 80% of strokes are preventable.”

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