Strokes can strike teens and children too


by Liza Javier

Posted on April 2, 2010 at 5:40 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 4 at 10:45 AM

When you think of stroke, usually older adults are the victims.  But strokes can strike the very young as well.  Recovery can be very difficult, not only for kids, but their parents too.

Matthew Leyva Wishnak is a typical teenager. He likes biking, music and hanging out with friends.

"I definitely was athletic," he said.

Matthew was captain of his high school wrestling team. Then one day during practice, something went wrong.

"All of a sudden it just hit me," he said. "Everything turned sideways and then back up and then sideways. I got this profound vertigo. I was totally off balance. I started vomiting convulsively."

Matthew was rushed to the hospital

"We were terrified that something might happen to him that night," said Debra Lyva, Matthew's mother. "We just wanted to make it through the night."

The next morning, an MRI determined that the healthy teenager had suffered a stroke.

"I was completely surprised. When I think of strokes, I think of elderly people having strokes, not a 16-year-old boy," said Debra.

"No one ever heard of a kid my age ever having a stroke," said Matthew.

But they do.  It affects 5,000-10,000 kids a year in the U.S.

"The majority of children having stroke are actually just previously healthy children who don't have any sort of underlying risk factor like that," said Dr. Heather Fullerton, pediatric neurologist.

Fullerton says most children will survive, but not without intense rehabilitation.

"We often tell parents that it's going to be like going back to that first year of life, which can be extraordinarily difficult and painful for families to watch," said Fullerton.

The stroke left the star athlete unable to walk, but Matthew was determined.

"Walking from one room to another is how it started. Each day he would try to walk a little bit farther and then farther," said Debra.

And soon, Matthew was up and running. Just two years later, Matthew finished a triathlon.

Matthew hopes his story will increase awareness that children and teens do have strokes and that early detection can be the key to a full recovery.

This may surprise you: One quarter of all stroke victims are under the age of 65.