By Cody Thompson

Messenger Reporter

GRAPELAND – Ten feet tall and bulletproof. This phrase describes how I felt when I was a teenager and student at the University of Texas A&M in College Station. At least, that’s how I felt until I had a stroke in 2011 at 19 years old.

After a fun-filled Thursday night of dancing and revelry with friends, I dropped my girlfriend off at her apartment and returned to mine at approximately 3 a.m. to sleep before my 8 a.m. class. All-in-all, I felt perfectly fine and I was riding on the proverbial “cloud nine.”

Needless to say, I was not prepared for what would happen next.

I was awakened in what I assumed was the morning by a forceful nudge. I slowly opened my eyes and was greeted by the sight of two College Station Police officers standing over my bed.

As I jerked out of my groggy state, one of the officers asked me if I remembered what had happened the night before. I quickly told the officer that I had gone dancing the night before with friends. He then asked me if I had taken any illicit substances and I told him everything that I had eaten or drank from the previous day. You never remember things more clearly than when you wake up to law enforcement officers in your bedroom.

The officers could obviously tell that I was confused by their presence, so they informed me that it was currently 11:30p.m. on Friday. Apparently, I had been asleep for over 20 hours. In my comatose state, I had missed several calls from my friends and family members who had been frantically trying to get in contact with me. To be honest, I was most upset about missing my class.

As I struggled to get out of bed, I noticed that my vision was fairly blurry and my balance was a little off. The officer assisted me while I got dressed and walked me into the living room where many of my friends and family members were gathered.

After everyone was reassured that I had not given up the ghost, many of them returned to their respective residences. My mother and father stayed behind the make sure that I was ok: my mother wanted to take me to the hospital but I reassured her that I was fine and my vision and balance were a product of oversleeping. My parents reluctantly left.

I went back to bed after everyone left and woke up at around 10 a.m. on Saturday.

I instantly realized that my vision had gotten worse while I slept: instead of my vision being blurry, I was seeing double. I quickly convinced myself that I was fine, it was most likely some delayed side effects and my vision would go back to normal after a few hours. In reality, I didn’t want to admit anything was wrong because I had tickets for myself and my girlfriend to go see the musical stylings of Easton Corbin that night.

I somehow made breakfast and got dressed in my pseudo-inebriated state, then headed out to my truck to go pick up my girlfriend from her apartment. My vision was getting worse by this point but I, by the grace of God, made it to her apartment.

As soon as my girlfriend saw my eyes she declared that we were going to the hospital. I somehow convinced her that we shouldn’t go to the hospital but she said she was taking me to my parents’ house to get their opinion of what step we should take next.

At this point, not only was I seeing double, but I was also having a hard time staying awake. I would stay awake for all of five minutes, then I would basically pass out. I was upset that we wouldn’t be seeing Easton Corbin, but the hospital was starting to sound like a good idea.

My parents decided that I definitely needed to go to the hospital, so they transported me to Huntsville Memorial Hospital in Huntsville.

At Huntsville Memorial, doctors and nurses ran several tests on me and it was discovered that I had had a stroke. I was immediately transported to Memorial Hermann in Houston.

Doctors at Memorial Hermann discovered that I have a rare blood-clotting disorder that was the most-likely culprit for my stroke. The disorder causes my blood to clot at extremely high rates. It was later discovered that the disorder came from my mother’s side of the family, as it was later discovered in my mother and many of her family members as well.

The other culprit was a small hole in the wall of my heart called a patent foramen ovale. Doctors told me that a PFO is a hole that everyone is born with, but that it normally closes by the time the host is 3 years old. Only one out of four people’s PFO doesn’t close. I was lucky number four.

My doctors theorized that a blood clot had formed in my leg and that my dancing from Thursday night had jarred it loose. The blood clot then worked its way through my blood stream, went through the PFO and ended up in my brain.

My doctors also told me that I was having a difficult time staying awake because my brain was trying to heal itself. To heal itself, my brain needed me to sleep. On a positive note, it was a good excuse to sleep all day, which was great for a young college student.

My vision problem was caused by a damaged optical nerve that caused my right eye to angle towards my nose. Due to the damage to the nerve, I could not move my right eye forward. To remedy this, my doctors gave me a pair of special glasses that had a special “prism” in the right lens. The purpose of the prism was to attract my right eye towards it, allowing me to see somewhat normally.

I was told that the prism would help the healing process for my eye and that it might be a year before I was able to see properly without them. My vision made an almost complete recovery in two months and I no longer needed the glasses.

Probably the worst part of the stroke was the first month after it occurred. My doctors prohibited me from driving, which was a travesty to this young socialite, and my girlfriend had to drive me everywhere. She also had to help make me food and do normal household chores, mainly due to my constant need for sleep. I had never felt more helpless in my entire life and I hated it.

Eventually everything worked out and I made a complete recovery. I was one of the lucky few that actually made it through my stroke without any repercussions, but each year, there are several others who are not as fortunate as I.

May is National Stroke Awareness Month, and several organizations around the world are working to help spread awareness about stroke prevention and treatment. One such organization is the American Stroke Association.

Each year, approximately 133,000 Americans are killed by strokes and strokes are about as common as a heart attack, according to the ASA.

There are several signs that can indicate that an individual has had a stroke or is currently having one. These signs include, but are not limited to, face drooping, arm weakness and speech difficulty.

If you see someone showcasing these symptoms, call 911 immediately and tell the operator that you believe the person is having a stroke, according to ASA. The sooner you get the victim to the hospital, the better their chances are of survival and not having any lasting effects.

For more information about the ASA or for tips on how to prevent or treat strokes, visit www.strokeassociation.org.

Cody Thompson may be reached via e-mail at cthompson@messenger-news.com.