"The first word I said was 'mom'.'"

By Perri Ormont Blumberg
May 25, 2018
Courtesy University of Missouri Health Care

Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine medical student Sydney Priest never thought she'd become a patient at University of Missouri Health Care during her first year of medical school. The then 25-year-old student was eagerly forging her path towards her dream of becoming a doctor when the unthinkable happened: She suffered a basilar artery occlusion, the worst kind of ischemic stroke.

"My day was completely normal, just like any other day at school," Priest said in an MU Health Care press release. "All of a sudden, I felt dizzy, couldn't speak, began to vomit and I lost control of the right side of my body. We hadn't gotten to the lecture on stroke symptoms in class yet, so I had no idea what was going on." The type of stroke Priest suffered is very rare, accounting for only around 3% of all strokes caused by a blockage. The clot was near Priest's brainstem, and Priest faced a harrowing mortality rate of between 80 and 90 percent.

Strokes happen when the blood supply to your brain gets cut off, so your brain can't get the oxygen and nutrients it needs — and it's not only older people who are at risk. Between 2000 and 2010, there was a 44% increase in the rate of stroke among people 25 to 44 years old, according to the highly respected Journal of the American Medical Association.

Amazingly, Priest began to recover from her stroke and after two weeks in the neurosciences intensive care unit at University Hospital, she was ready to begin rehab closer to home in Kansas City. While Priest was born with a congenital heart blockage and went into school thinking she would become a pediatric cardiologist, the experience inspired her to work towards becoming a rehabilitation doctor. "I want to be able to give them hope and be an inspiration to them," said Priest. Learn more about her moving story in the video below.

Think you may be at risk? "We say women on birth control who smoke and have migraines, it's sort of a trifecta of the perfect storm for developing a higher risk for stroke," said Brandi French, MD, MU Health Care neurologist in the same press release. "It's especially that combination of contraceptives and smoking, but you throw migraines with aura in the mix and those patients are up to 15 times higher risk for stroke than women of similar ages."

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To learn more about strokes, visit stroke.org and get information on the FAST acronym to remember the warning signs here. If you believe that you or a loved one is having a stroke, call 911 immediately.