Early one morning, six-year-old Larson was practicing karate punches. Without warning, he suddenly passed out on the floor. Larson’s mother thought he was joking, but he was unable to stand up on his own, had an intense headache and started vomiting. He couldn’t open his eyes or say anything to his parents. Larson’s parents called a nurse advice line, and they suggested getting a CT scan.

Misdiagnosed

As his family waited for results, Larson regained speech and stopped vomiting, so the medical center suggested he was experiencing migraines or vertigo. They prescribed migraine medication and sent him home, telling his parents that if he didn’t get better, he should go to an emergency department. After returning home, Larson started vomiting again and his headache worsened.

No one knew at the time, but Larson was showing signs of a stroke. Strokes are often missed in children, because there is a lack of awareness that strokes can happen to someone that young.

Warning signs

For adults and children, the F.A.S.T. acronym is critical for recognizing the signs of stroke: Face drooping; Arm weakness; Speech difficulty; Time to call 911.

For children and teens experiencing stroke, there are additional signs, which include:

  • Severe sudden headache, vomiting and sleepiness
  • Sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, difficulty speaking or difficulty understanding others
  • Sudden trouble seeing to one side, loss of vision
  • Sudden difficulty walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • New onset of seizures, usually on one side of the body

If any symptoms of stroke are present, don’t delay; seek medical help immediately!

Results

Larson’s parents knew that something was terribly wrong with their son, so they took him to the pediatric ED. Unfortunately, Larson was not evaluated for stroke, but was given the same migraine medication and sent home. Soon after, Larson began vomiting again and complained loudly of intense head pain. The pediatric ED was at capacity, so Larson was admitted to the adult ED. Having experience in adult stroke, the doctor suspected that with Larson’s symptoms of sudden, severe headache, vomiting, difficulty walking, double vision and loss of balance, he needed to be evaluated for stroke. The doctor ordered an MRI that was done several hours later. Thirty hours after his initial symptoms, Larson was finally diagnosed as having suffered a stroke.

“Strokes are often missed in children, because there is a lack of awareness that strokes can happen to someone that young.”

Stroke is an emergency at any age. If it looks like stroke, think stroke — regardless of age. For Larson, it took three attempts to get him evaluated for stroke, but he did survive. Unfortunately, stroke is one of the top ten causes of death in children.

Today, at age nine, Larson has now survived four strokes. The cause of his strokes was a torn artery in the back of his neck, the cause of which is still unknown. The need for education of pediatric stroke continues to grow, with Larson’s story highlighting the critical importance of recognizing symptoms of strokes in children and teens quickly. Prompt diagnosis could mean the difference between life, disability and death.