COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Healthy, pregnant with her first child, and full of energy, Savannah Tapler can't believe she's alive as she talks about what happened a year ago on her 25th birthday. She arrived at work at Lexington Medical Center where she's a planning analyst when she got out of her car and stumbled.
"At this point I'm dragging my left leg behind me; I'm still able to pick it up and put it down in front of me, but I can feel it progressively getting worse and so I'm thinking what's going on," Savannah said. "My entrance is, I can see it at this point and I just got to make it to the door, I can make it to the door and ask for help."
Savannah said she knew something was wrong.
"I was still in denial as to what was happening, but I'm thinking I've just messed up a disc in my back, I've cut off a nerve somehow and I just need to get to the door and I'll sit down at my desk," she said. "So I come around the corner here and I let go of all my bags, I abandon them right here at the top because I know I'm not going to be able to make it down the stairs with them. I pretty much have to grab onto the railing, pick my leg up and set it down on the next stair. I go very slowly to make sure I don't fall. Luckily, I make it to the bottom and bang on the door and two people are able to come running to help me into the building."
Savannah's co-workers quickly got her to the ER.
"They immediately sent me for a CT scan and within 45 minutes they came back and said it looks like you have a two centimeter brain bleed," she said. "A stroke. A stroke. And I immediately said 'oh, no, you're wrong. And he said, no, I have the film right here. And I'm like, but that's not possible; I'm 25 years old today.'"
It's a diagnosis Dr. Wesley Frierson said many patients initially misinterpret.
"It's pretty common," Frierson said. "We see a lot of folks come in a couple of days after they've had an event happen because they just didn't realize the signs. So we try to make sure that everyone realizes that sometimes it may be as simple as not being able to speak properly."
Frierson said Savannah recovered because she got medical treatment immediately.
"Our standard is to try and keep treatment in three hours, and of course if you're able to get there quicker, then the outcomes are better," Frierson said. "We try to stress that to everyone - get there as quickly as you can, go to your nearest hospital for treatment."
Savannah had to relearn how to use her left leg and left arm. A patient can make progress through physical therapy which can be as intense emotionally as it is physically.
"Really, it was a mental game of yesterday I was walking and running and today I have to be helped to the bathroom," Savannah said.
Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in South Carolina and it is the leading cause of serious, long-term disability in our country.
Doctors could not pinpoint exactly what caused Savannah's stroke. Her family has a history of blood clots, her blood pressure fluctuated from time to time and she was taking birth control. All can be risk factors. Within two months of her stroke, Savannah was running again. And a year later she and her husband await their first child - a baby boy - due Thanksgiving.