Strokes on the rise for children, according to the American Stroke Association

October 22, 2012

A study from the American Stroke Association found strokes have increased 30 percent in boys and girls ages 5 to 14. Strokes can even occur in the womb, or right after birth.

Jamie Finnerty, 15, is a talented rugby and football player who experienced a stroke after taking a hard hit while playing sports.

"I felt like the world was spinning a thousand miles an hour," said Finnerty.

Doctors found that the hit had tore an artery, which caused the stroke.

"They thought it was a migraine, so it was 24 hours later they realized he had a stroke," said Dr. Neil Friedman, Pediatric Neurologist, Cleveland Clinic.

The National Stroke Association says that on average, it takes 12 to 24 hours for adults to get to the hospital after the first sign of a stroke. That time climbs to 48 to 72 hours for children.

"Childhood stroke often goes unrecognized," said Dr. Friedman.

Signs of pediatric stroke can be difficult to diagnose. Underlying heart disease, blood disorders, trauma, even chicken pox can cause a stroke. Until recently, there's been very little to help a child who's suffered a stroke.

"For a child that means a lifelong disability," said Dr. Friedman.

Now, studies are underway to use the adult drug TPA in children with brain clots. Dr. Friedman says the clot-busting drug needs to be given within four and a half hours of the stroke.

If it works, it can improve most signs of the stroke, but there is still a concern about hemorrhage, or bleeding in the brain.

It was too late to use TPA for Finnerty's stroke, but childrens' brains have the ability to rewire quicker and more completely than adults.

Dr. Friedman said Finnerty suffered a second stroke while in rehab. The bleed was due to a side effect to a blood thinning medication. He says TPA would not be useful for that type of stroke.

However, just three months later, Finnerty is walking, talking and ready to get back to school and sports.

"It's kind of cool to say everything that happened, I'm standing here, I'm doing all this and I'm getting back to normal," said Finnerty.

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