Age is just a number; at least, that’s what they say. But experts at two HCA North Texas hospitals received an all-too-common reminder that, regardless of age, stroke does not discriminate.

While the risk of stroke increases after age 55, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports an alarming rise in the number of young adults suffering an ischemic stroke, the most common type, in which the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off due to a blockage. According to The Washington Post, there has been a 44 percent increase in hospitalizations for ischemic stroke among people ages 25 to 44 between 2000 and 2010.

HCA-affiliated Denton Regional Hospital, a primary stroke center, and Medical Center of Plano, a level 1 comprehensive stroke center – certified to treat the most complex stroke cases – were charged with saving a young stroke patient earlier this year.

Twenty-one year old Cassie Scantlin, a senior at the University of North Texas, woke up with what she thought was a case of the flu one day. She went to bed with a glass of orange juice to wait out the misery when it hit.

“My entire body felt electric and tingly, like someone else was controlling my body,” Scantlin recalls. “My head felt like it was almost like a balloon on top of my body. My head hurt so bad it felt like my eyes were swelling from the pressure.”

As she reached for the tableside OJ, Scantlin realized she couldn’t move her right side. “Why can’t I move my hands?” she remembers wondering. “Why can’t I move my feet?”

She tried to calm herself by singing “Amazing Grace,” but found she couldn’t remember the words. Nor could she read.

Healthy and strong, Scantlin says it never crossed her mind that what she was experiencing could be a medical emergency. Instead of calling 911, she called her grandparents, who lived half an hour away.

“I used chairs, walls. It took me 30 minutes to make it to the front door of my apartment,” Scantlin says. “I thought I was going to collapse and die right there.”

Highly Specialized Stroke Network

When Scantlin reached the emergency room at Denton Regional Medical Center, doctors determined that this otherwise healthy college student was having a stroke. They immediately administered lifesaving tissue plasminogen activator, or TPA, a medication that can break down blood clots in the brain and she was airlifted to sister facility The Medical Center of Plano.

Doctors at The Medical Center of Plano discovered something else: a hole in Scantlin’s heart called a patent foramen ovale, or PFO. Undiagnosed PFOs are often the underlying cause for stroke in young people. She underwent surgery in March to close that hole.

Road to Recovery

Four months after the stroke, Scantlin is still recovering. Her right side is numb and she has little sensation of hot and cold.

“It takes me three times to read anything,” admits Scantlin, “so the comprehension part has been difficult. But it’s getting better and my professors have been amazing.”

She wants others to know you’re never too young to suffer a stroke. “Don’t be scared to dial 911.” Echoing a campaign championed by the American Heart Association: “Don’t die of doubt,” she says.

Time is Brain

Both Denton Regional Medical Center and The Medical Center of Plano are part of the Texas Stroke Institute, a comprehensive and highly specialized brain attack network of care.

“Time is brain,” says Dr. Vallabh Janardhan, a stroke and interventional neurologist at The Medical Center of Plano and director of the Texas Stroke Institute. “Patients having stroke symptoms need to get to the right facility quickly, where they can receive care that may not only save their life, but preserve their brain and physical function. Hospitals that are part of the Texas Stroke Institute regional stroke network have the infrastructure, training and ability to provide the right lifesaving therapy, in the right place, at the right time for patients.”

Stroke is the fifth-leading cause of death in the United States. HCA, one of the nation’s leading providers of healthcare services, treats approximately 50,000 strokes annually.