Stress a major stroke factor

Nathan Liewicki
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Four years later, Cayer still recovering

She looks out the kitchen window. Out in the field, a few stone throws away, she sees them in all their magnificent glory.

Lee Cayer rides her horse at a previous reigning show in Moose Jaw. Cayer suffered a stroke four years ago, but she remains as passionate as ever about horses.

They do not know she gazes upon them, but on an afternoon that sparkles in sunshine Lee Cayer is eager to ride one of her 11 horses.

“My horses are my passion,” she said.

Growing up in British Columbia, Cayer was a competitive barrel racer, even claiming a provincial reserve championship. She even tried to qualify for a spot at the Calgary Stampede, but never quite got there.

Now living on a ranch near Willow Bunch, Sask., Cayer continues to barrel race, even though she is no longer allowed to do so by herself.

That is because four years ago Cayer’s life changed.

The week before she suffered her stroke, Cayer said she had been suffering from a headache that would not go away – and got worse.

The pain travelled down her neck and her joints felt achier than the active 45-year-old thought they should be. By the weekend, Carey’s headache, which she was not sure if it was a massive migraine or influenza, became unimaginable.

“Everything was too bright, too loud and too much,” Carey told the Times-Herald. “I couldn’t handle anything.”

Then, as Carey readied to go for a walk, her sunglasses unexpectedly fell from the grasp of her right hand, which she thought was odd.

“That’s when I realized I was paralyzed on my right side,” she said. “It was that fast.”

Transported to the Moose Jaw Union Hospital, where she received an injection of tissue plasminogen activator (t-PA), which helps to dissolve blood clots. The t-PA shot helped relieve the paralysis in Cayer’s right side. The next day she was discharged from hospital and headed back home.

The majority of strokes – 80 per cent – are ischemic, including the one Cayer suffered. Like her stroke, many ischemic strokes can be treated with a clot-busting drug, such as t-PA, if caught in time.

June is Heart and Stroke Month in Canada and the Heart and Stroke Foundation (HSF) wants people to be aware that things such as weakness, difficulty speaking, vision problems, headaches and dizziness are all potential signs of a stroke.

Cayer is just one example of a person from a younger generation suffering this potentially fatal medical emergency.

“More and more it’s hitting all people of all ages,” said Shelly Howe, a basic life support instructor that works with the Moose Jaw chapter of the HSF. “Learning what the warning signs are and getting someone to advanced medical care are probably the biggest pieces of lifesaving education that can be put out there.”

Keeping one’s blood pressure in check, eating healthy, staying active, limiting alcohol intake and de-stressing are all factors that, if ignored, could trigger a stroke.

In Cayer’s case, she acknowledged stress was probably the biggest reason for suffering a stroke when she did.

“Looking back, I probably lived with my fair share of stress. I lost both my parents, had gone through a divorce was a single mom and riding as much as I could,” she said. “I did not do anything to help myself in any way. I was probably hurting myself more and I truly believe the stress in my life caused my stroke.”

Cayer is still recovering, and noted that a resulting brain injury sometimes results in her mixing up words she normally would not have mixed up before her stroke. However, she admitted it could have been much worse.

“I can’t even imagine what my life would be like if I hadn’t been able to ride or pick up my grandkids again.”

Nathan Liewicki can be reached at 306-691-1256 or follow him on Twitter @liewicks

Organizations: T-PA, Heart and Stroke Foundation, Calgary Stampede Times-Herald Moose Jaw Union Hospital

Geographic location: British Columbia, Willow Bunch, Sask. Canada Moose Jaw

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