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What began as an ordinary family dinner for Kate and Michael Poret and their four children soon turned into an emergency.
It was April 2, 2016, and as they were eating, their then 8-year-old son Noah suddenly complained that his right arm fell asleep. Later in the evening, the right side of Noah’s face began to droop and “he started not making sense,” his mom said.
As she searched for his symptoms online, one diagnosis kept popping up.
“It was talking about strokes in adults and I thought, well, he’s not an adult so I don’t think that could be a stroke,” Kate Poret, 33, told TODAY.
But Noah — a perfectly healthy boy up to that point — was having a major stroke. The Porets, who live in Texarkana, Texas, rushed to the local emergency room, then headed to Children's Medical Center in Dallas. Noah spent more than two weeks in the intensive care unit, going in and out of consciousness, and suffering more strokes.
He had five in all: one minor stroke before April 2 that no one knew about until it was revealed on a scan, the major stroke during the family dinner, and three more afterwards.
May is National Stroke Awareness Month and though you may associate strokes with older people, they can happen to anyone, including babies, children and teenagers, the National Stroke Association warns. Stroke is one of the top 10 causes of death in children.
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Boys and African-American children are at a higher risk, and pediatric strokes are slightly more common in children under age 2, according to the association.
Common risk factors include congenital heart defects, head or neck trauma and immune disorders.
In Noah’s case, the stroke was caused by Moyamoya, a rare cerebrovascular disorder caused by blocked arteries at the base of the brain. Why he has the disease is a mystery — doctors simply don’t know the cause, his mom said.
Almost two months after Noah’s major stroke, surgeons took an artery from his scalp and laid it across the surface of his brain to feed it more blood — an operation known as encephalo-duro-arterio-synangiosis (EDAS).
Rehab helped Noah walk and talk again.
“He’s come a long way,” his mom said.
But the stroke has had a profound impact on Noah, who was once a popular, straight-A student active in sports. His academic performance suffered, he can’t play sports because of the head injury risk and he’s sensitive to loud noises. His personality has also changed, his mom said.
“He doesn’t like to socialize with his friends because he’s afraid people make fun of the way that he talks because it’s a lot slower, he can’t find the words,” she noted.
“Sometimes, you can’t reason with him. He’ll get a little bit more angry than he would normally… I feel like we lost a part of him.”
The family’s life has dramatically changed, too, with Noah’s schedule now filled with medicines, doctor’s appointments and scans. His prognosis is unknown, but Noah is back in school and he completed fourth grade this year.
His mom wants parents to be aware strokes can happen to children and to be on the lookout for symptoms, which can be subtle and go unrecognized for a long time.
Symptoms never to ignore:
In newborns and infants:
• extreme sleepiness
• the tendency to use only one side of the body or favoring one hand — you may notice your baby doesn’t bring both hands together during play.
In children and teens:
• a severe sudden headache that your child might call the "worst headache of my life," especially when accompanied by vomiting and sleepiness
• weakness or numbness on one side of the body
• problems speaking or understanding others
• vision loss or double vision
• severe dizziness
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