Stroke: Nothing To Sneeze At

Published on January 09, 2019

Stroke: Nothing To Sneeze At

Swift action is key to surviving and recovering from a stroke.

couple hugging each other

On Thursday, October 11, 2018, former Vancouver police officer Derek Redhead, 65, was visiting family in Palos Verdes when, over dinner, he had a sudden sneezing and coughing fit. “I remember spitting water and food, and I may have blacked out,” he says. “And a few moments later, someone said, ‘I think he might be having a stroke.’ I could hear sirens, and I remember people in uniforms in the house … then not much until I was in the back of the ambulance.”

Redhead recalls getting into the ambulance and struggling with the paramedics, insisting he was fine. The next thing he remembers is waking up in the recovery room at Torrance Memorial Medical Center. He’d just had surgery (within 90 minutes of his stroke!).

“I was told I had an acute ischemic stroke and I was still intubated (and restrained) when I woke up. My partner, Junett, was there, and they told her to be prepared to stay in Los Angeles for a long time.”

During ischemic stroke a blood vessel becomes blocked, usually by a blood clot, and a portion of the brain becomes deprived of oxygen and will stop functioning. “The CT scan showed the left internal carotid was occluded,” says interventional radiologist Richard Krauthamer, M.D. “And angiography definitely confirmed it was completely blocked. I was able to inflate a balloon and reopen the blocked artery and then stent it.

“With what we saw in combination with his history, it became clear this was a very unusual case of a carotid dissection caused by sneezing!” Dr. Krauthamer confirms. “By the morning Mr. Redhead was completely recovered, speaking with his beautiful British accent and moving his previously paralyzed right arm and leg.”

“They told me I could have been seriously disabled and these types of strokes can be severely debilitating. But the next day—Friday—I was having conversations and everything was fine. Then on Saturday, they released me,” Redhead (who is not a redhead) says. He and Junett stayed a few more days, then took three days to drive home to Vancouver.

I'm retired, so when my doctor here said to rest for three months, it was no problem, Redhead adds. I'm enjoying every day, believe me. I'm just glad we went to Torrance Memorial, which was just five miles away. And I'm glad we didn't get stuck in traffic. My life could have been so much different.

Indeed, Redhead was very lucky: His family recognized the signs of stroke and reacted quickly, calling 911 right away. He was very close to Torrance Memorial Medical Center, where emergency department doctors and surgeons were able to diagnose his stroke and treat him swiftly and effectively.

Time is of the essence when someone is experiencing a stroke. Take time to learn the signs, and always remember to call 911 so the ambulance will go to the nearest designated stroke center. Research has also identified some risk factors for stroke, so if you or a loved one recognize any of them, be aware and try to make lifestyle changes.

Act FAST!

Use F.A.S.T. to remember and recognize the following signs and symptoms of stroke:

F: Face drooping. Ask the person to smile, and see if one side is drooping.

A: Arm weakness. Ask the person to raise both arms.

S: Speech difficulty.

T: Time to call 9-1-1!

Common Risk Factors For Stroke

  • Genetic risk
  • Recent antibiotic use
  • Smoking
  • Stress
  • Drinking
  • Out of sync work/life balance
  • Habit of ignoring health symptoms