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Strokes can happen at any age. Alexis Dillon knew that message well, but it hit home for the Bon Secours St. Francis Health System nurse on June 8, 2018. 

“I was 33 years old,” Dillon said. “I worked the night before, came home and took a nap. I woke up around noon-ish and was kind of dizzy, but I attributed it to being tired.”

Dillon, who is mother of a 7-year-old daughter, is used to handling emergencies for others. On that day, it was her turn. She began to have excruciating pain in her head.

“It wasn’t aching,” she said. “It wasn’t pounding. It was intense pressure. My neck was super stiff. I was pacing in my kitchen. I have a young daughter and I just prayed. My only thought was that I have to live for her.”

Dillon was home alone.

“My aunt lives less than a mile away,” she said. “I drove to her house. I scared her.”

By the time Dillon’s aunt took her to the front door of the emergency room, Dillon was experiencing nausea, pain and sweating. She had suffered an aneurysm, a “brain bleed,” in the words of the doctor who examined her. 

“It could have been a weak spot in the blood vessel that I could have had since birth,” she said. 

Scans since that event have revealed no other problems. Dillon was treated and recovered fully after a hospital stay.

“It was a random, crazy aneurysm,” Dillon said. “As a nurse, honestly, I blow aches and pains off. I don’t want to bother the ER staff I work with.”

But Dillon acknowledges that if she had simply gone back to bed, her story might have had a very different outcome. She said women, especially, are likely to dismiss their health issues or delay treatment.

Though she spends busy days and nights dealing with medical emergencies, Dillon said she would rather have someone come in for treatment even if they are unsure, than have them delay with potentially tragic results. 

“We put our own health on the back burner because we tend to take care of others,” she said. “It is the only part of the story that makes me cry. It’s not about being in the ICU for two weeks. It’s the idea that I could have left my daughter without a mother. The importance of mothers taking care of themselves and having symptoms checked out – it hits my heart hard. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

If you think you or someone around you is having a stroke, remember to Act FAST. Think Face, Arms, Speech, Time. Look for drooping in the face, weakness in the arms or slurred speech. Time is the most important part of the equation. Call 911 immediately so potentially life-saving treatment can begin right away. 

Source: Casey Smith, Stroke Program Navigator for Bon Secours St. Francis Health System

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