‘Baby, you’re having a stroke’

Wife recognizes husband’s stroke after seeing Heart & Stroke ad
Couple in jeans holding hands

Rosalyn rose early that Saturday morning. She was getting dressed while her husband, Sam, lounged in bed. (We are not using the full names of the Toronto couple to protect their privacy.)

It was Dec. 1, 2018. As the two chatted, Sam’s voice changed. It sounded high pitched, and his words were a little slurred.

“Why are you talking weird?” Rosalyn asked. When he spoke again she could not understand him.

The moment triggered the memory of a Heart & Stroke TV commercial Rosalyn had seen many times, where a man has a stroke in the kitchen while his wife and daughter look on. “That’s exactly what happened to us,” says Rosalyn.

She recalled the word from the commercial, to help you recognize the signs of stroke: FAST. It stands for face, arms, speech, time.

The FAST commercial that caught Rosalyn’s attention.

Rosalyn told Sam to reach his arms in the air. He did: one went higher than the other.

“Baby, you’re having a stroke, just lie down. I’m going to call and get help.” Although he was just 47 and an avid soccer player with no risk factors for stroke, she knew the symptoms fit and there was no time to waste.

Speedy response

Rosalyn dialled 9-1-1. “My husband is having a stroke and you need to get here as soon as possible,” she told the operator, adding their address in Toronto’s Beach neighbourhood.

Paramedics soon arrived and within 90 minutes Sam was undergoing surgery at St. Michael’s Hospital.

He was treated for an ischemic stroke, which is a stroke caused by a blockage. Scans revealed that Sam had a genetic abnormality in one of his carotid arteries. These are major blood vessels in the neck that carry blood to the brain, face and neck.

Doctors compared the abnormality to a speedbump that allowed blood to build up around it, causing a stroke. They put a stent in the vessel to allow blood to flow more freely and prevent another stroke.

Sam spent two weeks in the hospital and a week in a rehabilitation centre. He got out on Dec. 23 —Rosalyn calls it the “best Christmas present ever” — and continued outpatient rehab.

Quick treatment helps

The stroke affected Sam’s speech and some of his cognitive abilities — he often had to reread paragraphs to fully understand them. He worked hard at rehab and on an almost daily basis saw improvements. He was hoping to return to his job by spring.

“You’re very lucky your wife knew what was happening and didn’t panic,” doctors kept telling him. They called his stroke recovery “miraculous,” but also say getting treatment so quickly made a key difference.

That FAST commercial had caught Rosalyn’s attention and she made a point of memorizing the acronym. She admits she can be a bit obsessive about these things, but has no plans to change her ways. “I’m a good problem to have.”