At age 22, suffering a stroke is the last thing on your mind. Scott Thompson was no different. In November 2014, the then-student at Rochester Institute of Technology was capping a completely average day with a completely normal intramural soccer match. When he stepped away from the water fountain, however, Thompson stumbled.

His teammates helped him sit down and, suddenly, stroke symptoms started to pile up. He felt as if someone was squeezing his left arm. His speech slurred. The left side of his face began to droop. Teammates immediately notified gym personnel, who quickly called 911.

CRYPTOGENIC: Despite not exhibiting the usual risk factors, many people still have strokes, much like Scott Thompson. Photos: American Stroke Association

Matching incidence with awareness

Few people begin their day thinking they’ll have a stroke, but approximately 795,000 people in the U.S. have this terrifying experience every year. The good news is that now, in 2016, stroke is largely treatable with recent scientific advances in the field.

Unfortunately, many people don’t get to the hospital and evaluated in time to be treated. To help more patients get the quick and expert medical attention they need for a stroke, learn the most common stroke warning signs using the acronym F.A.S.T; if you see: F—face drooping, A—arm weakness or S—speech difficulty, then it’s T—time to call 9-1-1.

“He didn’t have high blood pressure or the other usual risk factors, but having a stroke dramatically increases your risk for a second one, so it was important to determine the cause.”

Stroke education is essential for everyone. It’s especially important for bystanders, because they are the ones who are most likely to call 9-1-1 for help. Often the person experiencing a stroke may not understand their symptoms. They may be embarrassed to call 9-1-1 or concerned about insurance and the symptoms may affect their speech or mobility.

What saved Scott

The ambulance arrived for Scott and he was rushed to a comprehensive stroke center where tests confirmed he was having a stroke caused by a blood clot in a large vessel in his brain. He was given the clot-busting drug, tPA, and was a candidate for a stent retriever device to remove the clot.

Scott spent 29 days in in-patient rehab to regain some of the physical skills that had been lost from the stroke. His focus was on putting the stroke behind him as quickly as possible. His doctors and family; however, were weary. Even after a battery of tests, his stroke was cryptogenic, meaning the cause had not been determined. He didn’t have high blood pressure or the other usual risk factors, but having a stroke dramatically increases your risk for a second one, so it was important to determine the cause. Doctors started to wonder if an abnormal heart rhythm condition called atrial fibrillation could be to blame.

LIFE AFTER STROKE: After being treated with tPA and a stent retriever devide to remove his clot, Thompson underwent in-patient rehab for 29 days and remained cautious for the possibility of a second stroke.

Tracking with tech

To further investigate their hypothesis, Scott had a mini heart monitor inserted under his skin to track his heart—pretty cool stuff to the computer engineer. Sure enough, the device detected a faint, abnormal heartbeat, which they found to be the likely cause of the stroke. Scott’s doctor immediately changed his medication and is now more confident in their ability to prevent a second stroke.

His story illustrates so much of the work being done to save lives from this disease. Thanks to warning sign campaigns and Emergency Medical Services protocols, stroke hospital designations and acute stroke treatment guidelines, rehab best practices for stroke survivors and cryptogenic stroke initiatives, patients like Scott are getting back to normal life.

This month, Scott earned his degree in computer engineering and looks forward to starting his full-time job with Microsoft. By continuing to work together through research and education to end stroke, we’ll be able to celebrate more stories like his.