Philip Brawley, 40, was participating in the annual Victory Over Violence 5K race in Fort Worth the morning he suffered a stroke.
The race is significant to his family and friends because they use the event as a tribute to Eric Forrester, Brawley’s brother-in-law. Forrester was killed during a burglary at his home. Family and friends have kept his memory alive by doing things such as running in the race.
Those same friends and family who came out to support Forrester surrounded Brawley and soon noticed something was wrong; he had suddenly become unresponsive and had a weird blank stare. When a friend realized that he could be exhibiting stroke symptoms, paramedics were contacted.
“Being at the right place at the right time with the right people at the Victory Over Violence 5k really helped a lot … the symptoms were recognized really quick. The paramedics were called really quick, and I was at the hospital within the hour,” Brawley told The Dallas Express.
Doctors at Texas Health Fort Worth determined Brawley was, in fact, having a stroke. Upon surgery, they found he had a “patent foramen ovale” (PFO), a hole between the left and right atria (upper chambers) in the heart. They are typically discovered when doctors are treating stroke-like symptoms.
Dr. Yinn Cher Ooi, the open vascular and endovascular neurosurgeon who performed Brawley’s operation, told The Dallas Express that his case was unique.
“We typically see patients considerably older than Philip with what he presented with, Dr. Ooi said.” “When you have a hole in the heart, it can bypass the body’s natural filter, which is the lungs, and go straight to the brain, which is probably what caused Philip’s stroke.”
Brawley described his stroke to The Dallas Express as a complete disconnect between the mind and body. He recounted being asked to lift his left arm and leg at the hospital; he thought he was lifting them, but they were not moving at all.
“I felt completely and totally fine through the whole process,” he said.
When someone has a stroke, it means the brain is lacking the proper oxygen. It can also refer to bleeding in the brain. The hole in his heart made things even more serious.
“With people with PFOs, they have a significantly higher risk of developing cryogenic strokes, which are strokes where we don’t identify a definite cause for the stroke,” Dr. Ooi said.
The outcome of a stroke is heavily dependent on the quick recognition of its symptoms.
“The stroke treatments that work best are available only if the stroke is recognized and diagnosed within 3 hours of the first symptoms,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In Brawley’s case, the fast reaction and recognition of those around him allowed him to get the treatment he needed quickly.
A stroke can be identified using the F.A.S.T. method. The acronym stands for “Face, Arm, Speech, and Time.” Its first three letters point to the different indicators that a stroke is occurring, while the last letter is a reminder to get help if those signs are present.
To determine if someone is having a stroke, do the following test, as described by the CDC:
- F—Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
- A—Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
- S—Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is the speech slurred or strange?
- T—Time: If you see any of these signs, call 911 immediately.
Healthy living is key to preventing a stroke. Maintaining a regular exercise routine, being aware of food intake, especially when it pertains to sugar, and staying in shape are important. In the event that a stroke does occur, a healthy lifestyle can mean a quicker recovery with fewer or no complications.
Brawley, who stays active by playing and coaching soccer, is evidence of that.
“Being aware of your body and being aware of what you put in your body just makes a difference,” he said.