Too Young for a Stroke

Knapp-FamilyYou could say Brad Knapp had it all: a beautiful family with the recent addition of a sweet baby girl, a successful career as a chemical engineer at Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), and a healthy workout regimen including hitting the gym every day for endurance to pursue his passion for water sports.

Just about the last thing on the 37-year-old Decatur resident’s mind was the possibility of a stroke. But that quickly changed last February.

In the middle of the night, he woke up to give his then 6-month-old baby, Paloma, a bottle. His 12-year-old son, Caleb, and 8-year-old daughter, Aubrey, were asleep in another room. He started fumbling around. Hearing the noise, his wife, Brooke, went in and turned on the light and saw him fall to the floor.

“I thought at first he was tangled up in the cords of the baby monitor,” she said. “Then I saw his face, and I immediately knew something was horribly wrong. I called 911 and told them I thought he was having a stroke.”

But it didn’t make sense. Brad was a young, healthy, active guy. In his free time you’d find him playing basketball or wakeboarding on the lake right outside his home. He’d never had any medical issues before, and there had been no serious warning signs up until that point.

Brad was rushed to the local hospital for a series of tests and the administration of a blood clot-busting medication. For him to make a full recovery, doctors knew he needed highly-specialized treatment—and fast. He was referred to the region’s most advanced program that handles the most complex cases—Memorial Medical Center’s Comprehensive Stroke Center.

“I didn’t know anything about Memorial,” Brad said. “All of a sudden, I was in the helicopter flying over to Springfield.”

When Brad landed, his symptoms had progressed to severe left-sided arm and leg weakness and left-sided facial droop. The clot had lodged in an artery in the right side of his brain causing restricted blood flow. He was treated immediately by Augusto Elias, MD, a neurointerventional radiologist with Clinical Radiologists. With help from physician assistant Bill Greer, registered nurse Tim Flatley and the rest of the neurointerventional team, Brad received the quick treatment he needed.

“Brad had a mechanical thrombectomy to remove the clot to restore blood flow,” Greer said. “A vacuum-type suction is applied to the clot to remove it. The faster a patient can receive treatment, the better the long-term outlook.”

Thankfully, that was the case for Brad. “I was amazed by how fast function came back after the procedure,” Brooke said. “Everyone took their time explaining things. We couldn’t have asked for anything more.”

Brad spent nine days recovering at the hospital before going home. He’s on blood thinners, cholesterol medications, participates in occupational therapy and will have regular screenings for additional clots. But if you ask him, he’s just happy to be back to his routine.

“I couldn’t watch anymore daytime TV; I was ready to be back at work,” he said. “I still don’t have perfect balance, but that doesn’t slow me down. I’m not going to be the stroke guy. It’s inconvenienced my basketball game a little. I try to dribble, and it sometimes gets a little goofy.”

Brad just turned 38. To ring in the occasion, Brooke bought him a stand-up paddle board to help with balance before he pulls out the wakeboard again. It might seem like a simple gift, but for Brooke who is just grateful to have her husband, it’s about improvising and meeting him where he’s at now.

“He wanted to go back to bed that night, but I argued with him,” she said. “Just to think about what could have happened. I tell everyone now, go to Memorial if you have a stroke. I’ve never had a better hospital experience.”

One in six people will suffer a stroke. It’s much more uncommon in young people, but it does happen. Spotting a stroke F.A.S.T. is the first step. Learn more at our free, educational event about stroke prevention and intervention at 6 p.m. May 24, in the Memorial Center for Learning and Innovation’s M.G. Nelson Family Auditorium. Register online or call 217-788-3333. 

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