Having stroke in your 20s: Man shares his story of survival
GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — Brewer Bradshaw knows through personal experience that a stroke is not your grandparent’s disease.
The Clemson University alumnus suffered a major stroke when he was 27, at an age and a time he’d never considered the disease to be a threat to his life.
The now 28-year-old stroke survivor will share his story at the 2018 Upstate Heart Ball, a fundraiser for the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. The event will be Feb. 17 at the TD Center.
“It was hard,” Bradshaw said. “It’s still a struggle thinking about how lucky I am to still be alive.”
Stroke is a disease that affects the arteries leading to and within the brain, the American Stroke Association said. The disease is more common among the elderly. It is also the fifth-leading causing of death and a leading cause of disability in the United States, the association said.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in June found that stroke hospitalization rates increased significantly for men and women ages 18 to 54, and have almost doubled for men ages 18 to 34 and 35 to 44 since the mid-1990s.
Bradshaw believes it’s a disease that most young adults don’t think about.
At one time, neither did he. A native of Columbia, Bradshaw graduated from Clemson in 2012.
He left the Upstate to work in Washington, D.C., for more than a year. He returned here to work at his family’s company, Thrift Brothers Inc.
Bradshaw said he’s never had any major medical issues.
“I broke my hand and that was about it,” he said.
Suddenly, he began having “major” headaches. He blew them off.
“I didn’t really want to go the doctor or anything like that,” he said. “When you’re this young, you don’t think anything is wrong.”
Plus, he said, Clemson was about to play in the national football championship game in January and he wanted to go.
His headaches seemed to want to stay.
The week before the championship game, he missed work — which he rarely does — because he was feeling so bad. He started to vomit and his left eye turned red.
“Everybody thought it was pink eye, the flu or something,” Bradshaw said. “The headaches would come in and out about every two hours every day and it progressively got worse.”
Bradshaw still went to the national championship game, although he felt “terrible.” Shortly after his return, he was watching TV at his home in Seneca with his then-fiancee, Cassidy, when he started to “zone in and out.” He then lost the ability to talk and comprehend. He couldn’t move.
“It was like I was stunned,” he said.
For a few seconds, Cassidy Bradshaw thought he was kidding around. Then she feared he was choking. She looked into his eyes and knew something more was wrong.
“It was really scary,” she said.
Cassidy Bradshaw called her husband’s mom, Sherry Bradshaw, who was visiting his grandparents down the street.
Bradshaw said he began having recurring seizures at his home. That is how Cassidy and his mother knew whatever was wrong likely had something to do with the headaches he had been having.
They took him to Oconee Memorial where they did a CAT scan and a spinal tap.
“They knew it was neurological when all my vitals were good, but I still was unresponsive to commands nor was able to speak or communicate,” Bradshaw said.
He spent the night at Oconee but was taken to Greenville Memorial Hospital the next morning to see a neurologist.
The seizures, which Bradshaw said he had every 10-15 minutes from the time he left his house, caused him to become unresponsive.
A couple of neurologists performed an MRI at Greenville Memorial. That’s when they discovered a “huge” blood clot on his brain, he said.
He was given three anti-seizure medications. One usually stops the seizures, he said.
“But they had to induce me into a coma and give me three since the seizures wouldn’t stop after one or two,” he said.
“The danger was that when they would bring him out of the coma, the seizures would return,” Sherry Bradshaw said in an email. “It was touch and go for four days.”
The neurosurgeon said it was a miracle that the blood flow rerouted around the clot, according to Sherry Bradshaw. That prevented brain damage, she said.
Bradshaw said he was so close to dying that his family was called to come to the hospital.
“It wasn’t looking good,” he said.
Bradshaw said he started to improve after being given another anti-seizure medicine.
“They were on the brink of doing surgery to take out the clot,” Bradshaw said. “Luckily, it never got to that point.
It was determined, Bradshaw said, that he has Factor V Leiden, a genetic mutation that can increase one’s chance of developing abnormal blood clots.
“It runs in my family,” he said. “My mom, my brother, my cousin and my aunt got tested. My mom, my aunt and my cousin have it.”
Bradshaw said he doesn’t know how the blood clot traveled to his brain. Doctors believe a sinus infection played a role.
“My blood is thick,” Bradshaw said. “Somehow I got a blood clot and it shot up through my sinuses and formed on my brain. That’s why I was having the headaches and my left eye turned red.”
These days, he is regaining a sense of normalcy.
He is scheduled to get off the blood thinners in January, after a year of taking them, he said. He’ll still have to take an aspirin every day. Bradshaw said he will be on anti-seizure medication for the foreseeable future.
Although he has had to make a few changes to his lifestyle, he said he feels great.
He has become more knowledgeable about his health, what he puts in his body, and the kind of activities he does. Prior to the stroke, he had enjoyed working out, running, and playing basketball. He played golf at Clemson.
“I’m still trying to figure out how active I can be,” he said. “I kind of have to remain calm at all times, which is hard, but it’s something I have to do.”
Bradshaw feels lucky to have come through his near-death experience as well as he did.
Some people who suffer a stroke on the left side of the brain end up with paralysis on the right side of the body, memory loss and speech and language problems, the American Stroke Association’s website said.
Bradshaw came out of it with a “greater appreciation of life.”
“It really does change your life and it really does make you appreciate everything that you have,” he said.
“You see people who struggle with things and you respect and feel for them even more.”