OAKDALE, Minn. - We don't often think of strokes hitting people in their teens. But it does happen and it's happening more often.
Brothers Michael and John McMillan of Oakdale know. Michael had a stroke three years ago when he was just 15.
John said Michael is, "My best friend. We do everything together. It would really suck if something worse happened to him and he wasn't here."
A stroke can be fatal.
Luckily for Michael McMillan, it wasn't. He had been at school five minutes when he felt what he called a head rush. He said, "I couldn't open my locker. I was like in a completely different state of mind."
He was able to walk to the nurse's office. Michael said, "They thought I was intoxicated."
John, now 21, was still in high school at the time and was called to the nurse's office as staff called an ambulance for his brother. John said, "His face was all red, his eye was doing something really goofy."
He said Michael would only respond to questions with one word answers and with long delays, using words like "hurt" and "ouch."
Michael's vision was horrible, his ability to think was messed up and he said, "I was literally unable to respond to them."
Once at the hospital, Michael said no one recognized his condition as a stroke, despite being unresponsive. He said, "The hospital I went to said I was making it up."
It wasn't until two days later at a second hospital that Michael was diagnosed with having had a stroke.
Dr. Ronald Tarrel of Noran Neurological Clinic and the co-director of the Abbott Northwestern Stroke Program did not treat Michael, nor did Abbott Northwestern, but Tarrel said, "It is true. We're recording more strokes in younger adults and teens than ever before."
While Michael's stroke was attributed to a very rare complication from a migraine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the number of people ages 15-44 hospitalized for stroke increased by more than a third between 1995 to 2008. The CDC believes the obesity epidemic is why.
Tarrel said, "It leads to problems such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and even cholesterol issues."
And those conditions can lead to stroke.
He said birth control pills have also been linked to an increased risk of stroke and a couple small studies have shown teen football players also have a higher chance of stroke, although it's unclear why. He said concussions could play a role.
But he urges everyone to know the symptoms of stroke and watch for them in the young and not so young.
Stroke symptoms include sudden onset confusion, vision issues, numbness or weakness on one side of body, lack of coordination or sudden severe headache.
Michael has recovered from the physical effects of his stroke, but he still has memory issues. He also got a cat two years ago to help him with anxiety. But he graduated from high school this past spring. Now he's focused on becoming an EMT. He said, "Because maybe I can make a difference for a teenager that is possibly having a stroke."
For more information, check out The Minnesota Stroke Association.
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