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Saint Luke's doctor shares stroke experience to raise awareness

Dr. Joanne Loethen
Posted at 6:31 PM, Jun 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-07 20:57:43-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo.  — Dr. Joanne Loethen hopes sharing her experience suffering a stroke will raise awareness about the warning signs to watch out for.

"It was very eye-opening," Loethen said.

As an internal medicine physician at Saint Luke's hospital, Loethen never imagined she would be the one receiving emergency medical care.

In October, Loethen started having unusual neck pain and headaches. At first, she thought it could be a pinched nerve. About three weeks later, she woke up in the middle of the night experiencing extreme nausea and vertigo.

She first thought she ate something bad the night before, but the symptoms kept evolving.

"I started noticing difficulty with my speech, difficulty with my swallow and then my left arm started feeling numb," Loethen said.

As a health care professional, Loethen realized she was likely experiencing the signs of a stroke. She called 911 and had the ambulance take her to the Saint Luke's Marion Bloch Neuroscience Institute.

Doctors discovered a tear in one of her arteries that had caused a clot responsible for the stroke.

Dr. Christine Boutwell, interim co-director of Saint Luke's Marion Bloch Neuroscience Institute, said Loethen did the right thing. After a stroke, time is of the essence.

"Brain cells or neurons are dying at about 1.9 million a minute or 32,000 per second, so the faster we can get blood flow restored the less likely the larger damage will happen," Boutwell said.

Data from the American Heart Association shows strokes have increased in young adults by 40% over the past several decades, but nearly 1 in 3 adults younger than 45 don't know the five most common symptoms of a stroke.

Boutwell said people should think of the acronym "BE FAST" to know the signs to watch for.

  • B: Trouble with balance
  • E: Eyes or trouble with vision
  • F: Facial droop, if one side of the face is drooping down
  • A: Arm weakness, if one arm is heavier to hold up than the other
  • S: Speech, slurring speech or trouble understanding speech
  • T: Time, call 911 right away.

Loethen is now fully recovered and is encouraging others not to hesitate to get help if they believe they may be suffering a stroke, no matter their age.

"It can happen to anyone, even if you are taking care of yourself and presumably you’re very healthy, it certainly can happen to anyone anytime and so recognizing that quickly is my message," Loethen said.