Cincinnati Children's Blog

7 Things I Wish I Had Known About Pediatric Strokes

7 Things I Wish I Had Known About Pediatric Strokes

Our lives forever changed on July 31, 2017, when we received a call from our babysitter. She thought something was wrong with our daughter, Claudia, as she was complaining of a severe headache, slurred speech, and inability to lift her right arm. I dialed our pediatrician’s office and they told me to hang up and call 911 immediately.

That began our journey with a pediatric stroke. Before that day, it would have never occurred to me that my daughter, who was eight at the time, could have a stroke. More awareness is needed because timing is everything. Here are 7 things I wished I had known about them:

7 Things I Wished I Had Known About Pediatric Strokes

1. Kids can get strokes, too

I had no idea that a perfectly healthy kid with zero health concerns could have a stroke. The EMT explained to me on the ride to the Emergency Department at Cincinnati Children’s that as long as you have blood pumping through your body, you can have a stroke. That means that even babies can get them.

2. The warning signs

Claudia had all of the classic warning signs of a stroke. Her face drooped on one side, she couldn’t lift her arm, and her speech was slurred. These warning signs can help figure out who needs to get to the hospital right away. Claudia also had a severe headache and vomiting which is more common in children with a stroke than adults.

3. How the headaches are different

Claudia has had headaches since she was 3 years old. But this one was different. It came out of nowhere and the pain was very different from her usual headache.  She described it as being hit in the head with a hammer. When a headache happens with weakness or other changes in body movement and function, doctors may be concerned about a stroke.

4. How important time is

We were so fortunate to have a babysitter who recognized something was wrong and called me immediately. We were fortunate that the EMTs came as quickly as they did and got her to Cincinnati Children’s right away. I’ve read so many stories of kids who don’t make it or too much time passed between the warning signs and getting medical help.  Once a stroke is found, doctors can get to work on minimizing the damage and improving the chances that a kid gets better, like Claudia has.

5. How important research is

One of the reasons that Claudia recovered as well as she did is because her doctors focused on how to improve the narrowing in her artery that caused the stroke.  Part of what they did was use new research from Switzerland that suggested high dose steroids could improve the narrowing.  Her doctors started her on steroids and from that point forward, she just got better and better. It was amazing.

6. Potential causes

Children with certain health conditions, such as congenital heart defects or sickle cell, are more prone to having a stroke. That said, kids without any underlying health condition can also have a stroke. Claudia’s stroke was caused by her body’s response to a viral illness. She had pneumonia about seven months prior and had ran a high fever. It wasn’t the virus that caused the stroke, it was her body’s response to the virus. Most children who get a viral illness won’t have a stroke; but for whatever reason, Claudia did.

7. Finding the right balance

Physical recovery was just the first step. It didn’t occur to me how much anxiety we would all have following her stroke. We’ve had to find the right balance between caution and living our lives. She still gets headaches occasionally. And like any kid, she gets sick too. We struggled to find this happy medium as parents and she looked to us to guide her. Her pediatrician has helped, as well as a psychiatrist. She recommended yoga, meditation and aromatherapy.

I can’t stress enough how fortunate our family is. An attentive babysitter. A quick-acting EMT. Living close to Cincinnati Children’s. A medical team who quickly and accurately diagnosed her, and wouldn’t stop looking for the best way to help her improve. Her recovery has been nothing short of miraculous. She is not quite as strong as she once was, and her handwriting is not quite as neat, but that’s IT. And through hard work, she is doing just as well at school as she was before.

We count our blessings every day, and want to make a difference for other families by sharing what we’ve learned. If reading this helps just one family act sooner, we’ve accomplished our goal. Please share this post so that more families are aware that strokes can happen to kids of any age.   

To learn more about our Division of Neurology, or to schedule an appointment, please call 513-636-4222 or fill out our online form for more information.

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