Michigan mom: 'I had a stroke at age 39 – warning signs weren't what you'd expect'

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Jenna Gibson was only 39 when she was training for a marathon five years ago, but her plans were aborted by a stroke that almost cost her her life.

Nearly 60% of stroke deaths occur in women, according to a recent study from Mayo Clinic – and now Gibson, a Michigan, mother of two childrenaims to help others become more aware and prioritize their health.

“When I heard that strokes happen in younger people, I had to share my story,” she told Fox News Digital.

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“In most cases, strokes are preventable if you know what to look for.”

On the day of Gibson's stroke, she felt great.

Jenna Gibson was just 39 years old when she was training for a marathon five years ago, but her plans were cut short by a stroke that nearly killed her. (Jenna Gibson)

It was a beautiful day, she had done well with a presentation at work and after dinner she enjoyed a walk outside with her mother.

“We were talking about how I was training for the Detroit Marathon for my 40th birthday, and then suddenly, out of nowhere, it felt like I was hit with a ton of bricks,” she told Fox News Digital.

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Gibson stopped walking and then suddenly fell into the grass.

Her mother initially thought she was joking. “She even took a picture of me laying in the grass and said, 'Come on, get up, what are you doing?'”

“They could see there was a blockage in the left side of my brain, and I was actively having a stroke.”

Her mother helped her up, but Gibson couldn't walk straight.

“I felt like I was drunk, something just wasn't right,” she said.

Yet Gibson did not experience any of the typical symptoms of a stroke, such as facial drooping, severe headaches or visual disturbances.

Jenna Gibson

When Gibson first fell on the grass, her mother thought she was joking – and took this photo. It turned out that Gibson was in the early stages of a stroke. (Jenna Gibson)

They made it home, where Gibson assumed she was have migraines. She took some headache medicine and went to bed.

“A few hours later I woke up and I still didn't feel well: I couldn't get out of bed, I couldn't move,” she recalls.

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Then they went to the emergency room. Gibson's mother told the medical team that her daughter was having trouble walking and was possibly having a stroke.

“They checked me, did all the tests and didn't see the typical signs they were looking for,” Gibson said. “Some of it was because I was young.”

'I could walk, although not very well. I was able to get some words out.”

She added: 'I didn't experience any droopy face. I could walk, although not very well. I was able to get some words out.”

After a CT scan, the medical team determined that Gibson was likely suffering from an optical migraine. The next morning, when she still felt unwell, the neurologist ordered another scan with contrast – and that time the stroke was finally revealed.

Jenna Gibson

Gibson is pictured with her husband and two daughters, who were 8 and 4 years old when she suffered a stroke in 2019. (Jenna Gibson)

“They could see that there was a blockage in the left side of my brain, and that I was actively having a stroke,” she said.

Gibson was immediately flown to another hospital, where she had been emergency brain surgery to remove the blood clot.

“There was clearly a risk of death; if we didn't act quickly enough, the window would have passed,” she said.

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When she was flown to hospital, Gibson said she was certain she would die and never see her husband and her daughters, who were just eight and four at the time.

“I thought I would never see my children grow up and get married, or that I would have to live in some sort of vegetative state and never work again.”

Jenna Gibson

Gibson is pictured with her two daughters in hospital following her stroke. Her first “order” was to tell her daughters that she loved them – and that “mommy will be fine.” (Jenna Gibson)

“I thought, 'Have I told my girls enough times that Mommy loves them? Does my husband know how proud I am of him?'”

The next thing she knew, Gibson was waking up from surgery in the intensive care unit – and facing a long road to recovery.

“At first I couldn't talk at all. I couldn't move my right side. I was stuck in my head – I could see what was happening and hear people asking me questions, but I couldn't answer.”

'By the grace of God'

Over the next few days, Gibson said her abilities slowly began to return.

She received speech therapy, occupational therapy and… physiotherapy – and over time she started to regain movement on her right side.

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Her first “order” was to tell her daughters that she loved them and that “Mommy will be fine.”

After a few weeks, Gibson returned home and continued outpatient therapy for three hours a day, three days a week for a period of four months.

“It was during the first six weeks that we saw the fastest improvement, and then it got slower and slower,” she said.

“I had to learn everything again. And now, by the grace of God, I can do all things.”

Jenna Gibson

“I thought, 'Have I told my girls enough times that Mommy loves them? Does my husband know how proud I am?'” Gibson said of her stroke. Here she is pictured with her husband and two daughters. (Jenna Gibson)

Today, Gibson is still completely numb on the entire right side of her body. She also sometimes still has trouble finding the right words when speaking, she said, especially when she's tired or stressed.

“But if you saw me, I look like a normal person,” she said.

And in a full-circle moment, Gibson was finally able to complete the half marathon last October.

'Every second counts'

Dr. Annie Tsui, head of neurology at Access TeleCare, who is based in Texashighlighted the prevalence of stroke among women and urged awareness.

“Strokes can occur for different reasons in different age groups and genders,” Tsui, who was not involved in Gibson's care, told Fox News Digital. “Although strokes can occur at any age, women between the ages of 20 and 39 are at twice the risk as men.”

While the main risk factors for stroke are high bloodpressurehigh cholesterol, heart disease, obesity and diabetes, the causes of strokes in younger age groups differ from those typically associated with older people, Tsui noted.

Jenna Gibson

After her stroke was diagnosed, Gibson was airlifted to another hospital for emergency brain surgery. (Jenna Gibson)

This includes heart problems, blood clotting disorders, genetic predisposition, vascular abnormalities or trauma.

“While no one is completely immune to the risk of stroke, individuals at higher risk should develop a prevention plan with their doctor,” Tsui advised. “In general, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is crucial as up to 80% of strokes can be prevented.”

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According to Tsui, it is crucial to be aware of the symptoms to get treatment as soon as possible.

She recommends using the FAST acronym shown below as a useful tool for identifying stroke indicators.

  • Face (drooping or numb)
  • Arm (weakness or numbness)
  • Speech (lack of clarity or difficulty speaking)
  • T before time to call 911
Jenna Gibson

Gibson underwent four months of intensive physical and occupational therapy during her recovery. (Jenna Gibson)

“The chances of survival and positive outcomes are highest when the patient is treated promptly medical attention,” Tsui told Fox News Digital.

Some stroke treatments are only effective if given within three hours of the onset of symptoms, she warned – with the risk of permanent brain damage or death increasing with every minute.

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“It is important to be vigilant in recognizing stroke symptoms and looking for them medical assistance immediately at the first sign,” Tsui said.

“Every second counts in reducing the risk of brain injury, permanent disability or even death.”

For more health articles, visit www.foxnews.com/health.

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