Pregnant 22-year-old had ‘drooping face’ before stroke: ‘I kept stumbling’

RICHMOND, Va. -- May is stroke awareness month and Tia Ingram, a 22-year-old Richmond mom of two, is using the occasion to share her story.

She suffered a stroke last August, when she was seven months pregnant with her son, Luis. At first, she thought she was tired from a long day at work.

“I had just gotten off work and I was at my mamma's house at the time, so when I got there I tried to walk her steps, it kind of felt funny,” Ingram said. “I felt like real, real weak. Like weak and tired.”

Ingram ended up going home and just went to sleep, but the next day she had a hard time staying on her feet.

“I tried to get up, multiple times but I kept stumbling,” Ingram said.

Her son’s father then started noticing other changes.

“He looked at me and said, 'why does your face look like that?'” Ingram recalled. “I was like... like what?  And he said it’s drooping, and then he said I wasn’t talking right.”

Ingram suffered symptoms for more than 24 hours before she was rushed to VCU Medical Center.

“I just broke down because I was like this can’t be happening, it really can’t.”

Doctor Daniel Falcao, a vascular neurologist at VCU Health who was instrumental in Ingram’s case, says she exhibited the classic symptoms.

“It is difficult for the population to know signs of strokes, so I tend to use the word ‘fast’,” he said.

FAST is an acronym to help detect and treat a stroke.  It stands for facial drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulties, and time to call emergency services.

“About 2 million brain cells, neurons die every single minute we do not treat a stroke,” Dr. Falcao said. “Time is brain. It is paramount that recognize stroke signs.  It is as important that we take an action, and the action is as soon as the stroke signs are recognized, call 911 because time is brain.”

Doctors worked against the clock, performing a thrombectomy to remove clots from her brain.

“It was evasive intervention that goes through the vessels close to the leg, bypassing the heart, going to brain through the vessels of the neck with the goal of pulling the clot down,” Dr. Falcao said.

It’s a practice VCU Health has been following for the last two years, but it’s only been adopted nationwide in the last few months, under a new guideline.

In Ingram’s case, the quick action saved her life and her son.

“I was actually able to see her afterwards and hold her baby and that was a significant event for all of us,” said Dr. Falcao. “It was very rewarding.”

Dr. Falcao says the statistics behind strokes are concerning.

“Stroke is among the top five leading causes of death in U.S.  795,000 strokes will happen this year. One every 40 seconds.  Every 40 minutes, a stroke will take one life. A stroke can happen to anyone,” said Dr. Falcao.

Ingram never thought it would happen to her.

“I was in a daze because I just couldn’t believe it,” she said. “Strokes and really any health issues can happen to anybody despite the age. People think that strokes like that could happen to older folks and it don’t.”

Ingram has one important message for anyone who feels they may be suffering a stroke.

“If you feel like something’s not right, just go. Go straight to the emergency room, even if you feel like it's something minor, just go straight there. Because you never know. That minor thing can be something real big,” she said.