Stroke Symptoms May Differ, Even for the Same Person

Tim with daughter, Tara.

Strokes come in all shapes and sizes—just ask Tim Cowan. He’s survived several.

“In summer of 2014, I was calling in an order for food, and it just came out gibberish,” said the 57-year-old Springfield, Illinois, native and Memorial employee. “No matter how hard I tried to say something, I couldn’t. A couple of weeks later, my work vehicle was damaged sometime during the day, and then on the way home I rear-ended somebody.”

Tim’s wife recognized something was wrong, and they headed to Memorial Medical Center where he spent the night. Tests showed he had experienced a stroke. Physically he had no deficits, and his speech was clear. He returned to a normal routine with doctor’s orders to quit his smoking habit of 35 years, which he did.

No ‘Typical’ Strokes

According to Sajjad Mueed, MD, an associate professor at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and medical director of the Memorial Comprehensive Stroke Center, there is no such thing as a “typical stroke.”

However, many patients—like Tim—report difficulty with everyday tasks, as well as confusion and difficulty with speech.

A year later, Tim collapsed in the bathroom at home. When his wife found him, Tim’s face was drooping, and he was confused. They headed back to Memorial where he stayed overnight for tests. His symptoms resolved a few days later, and he returned home.

“The care I received at Memorial was excellent,” he said. “The doctors were the best, and the nurses were awesome. They were so prompt, always coming in to check on me.”

No Sign is Too Small

Within a week, though, Tim experienced a serious headache that didn’t go away with aspirin. He called his doctor’s office, and they told him to head to the hospital.

Tim’s daughter, Tara Petty, also a Memorial employee, picked him up to take him to the hospital. When he became nauseous and his situation deteriorated, she pulled over and called for an ambulance.

Once Tim reached the Emergency Department, they did an ultrasound on his carotid and described his symptoms as “flash episodes.” If the symptoms continued, it indicated another stroke.

“They were odd symptoms,” Tim said. “I put steaks on the grill but forgot to put the charcoal on. Little things that just weren’t right.”

Seek Treatment

Patients experiencing those symptoms should seek emergency treatment right away, Dr. Mueed said, noting that as many as 30,000 brain cells can be lost every second during a stroke.

“People think minor symptoms can be ignored,” he said. “But our studies have shown that even minor symptoms can cause bigger problems down the road.”

Tim is grateful to be back at work and living a normal life. In his spare time, he rides his motorcycle, fishes with his son, Gabe, umpires high school baseball and softball games and loves on his 7-month-old grandson.

“The strokes made me realize I’m not invincible,” he said. “It made me appreciate my family more than anything and how I want to be around for them.”

Learn more about the Memorial Comprehensive Stroke Center, one of only two in Illinois outside the Chicago area.