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Published June 23, 2012, 11:30 PM

Small stroke, big scare: Radio personality suffers ‘mini stroke’

FARGO - Froggy 99.9 radio personality Amanda Lea is a healthy 26-year-old. Yet sometime early June 13, the Fargo woman suffered a transient ischemic attack, or a “mini stroke.”

By: Meredith Holt, INFORUM

FARGO - Froggy 99.9 radio personality Amanda Lea is a healthy 26-year-old.

Yet sometime early June 13, the Fargo woman suffered a transient ischemic attack, or a “mini stroke.”

There were no warning signs. “I’m 110 percent healthy,” she says.

On weekdays, Lea gets up around 3:30 a.m. for her “Mike, Pike and Amanda” morning show.

While she was brushing her teeth, she noticed she couldn’t taste anything on the left side of her mouth.

Then she realized her left eye was droopy and her speech was slurred when she tried to talk to her husband.

“I started touching my face, and my whole left side was numb,” Lea says.

The first thing she did was call her boss. After all, if she can’t talk, she can’t work.

“That was all I could think about,” she says.

At first, Lea thought she might have been stung by a bee.

“My husband and I were laughing about it because that was the only way to deal with it,” she says.

But when she couldn’t lift her curling iron, she knew it was time to go to the emergency room.

“My whole left arm wouldn’t function,” she says.

The severity of the situation didn’t set in until hospital staff started working on her and setting up tests.

“That’s when it got really scary,” Lea says.

An MRI revealed an abnormality on the right side of her brain that showed she’d had a mini stroke during the night.

“I don’t know when it happened; the doctor can’t tell when it happened,” she says.

A quarter-million

Essentia Health’s Dr. Ziad Darkhabani, who didn’t treat Lea, says mini strokes are fairly common.

“About a quarter-million Americans a year get (mini-stroke)-like symptoms,” the interventional neurologist says.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, a mini stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is briefly interrupted.

Symptoms can include numbness or weakness, especially on one side of the body; confusion or difficulty speaking; trouble seeing; and dizziness or loss of balance.

The symptoms, which usually occur suddenly, are similar to those of a stroke but don’t last as long, and most disappear within an hour, NINDS says.

Lea’s speech came back within an hour and a half. By the end of the first night, she just felt weak and tired. Two days later, she was ready to go home.

The DJ was back on air Monday morning telling listeners about her eye-opening experience.

“I’m thankful this happened to me because I can be a voice,” she says.

A mini stroke can mean increased risk for a more serious and debilitating stroke. “It increases the risk of stroke in general,” Darkhabani says.

Mayo Clinic says about one-third of those who have a mini stroke will suffer an acute stroke sometime in the future, with about half occurring within a year.

However, Darkhabani says patients are at highest risk for a second or more serious stroke in the first few days to few weeks after the first occurrence.

According to Mayo Clinic, risk factors include family history, age, gender, underlying conditions like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and sickle cell anemia, excess weight, physical inactivity, poor nutrition and cigarette smoking.

“High blood pressure is probably the No. 1 risk factor for stroke or TIA. Smoking is No. 2,” Darkhabani says.

In general, eating a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising and avoiding cigarettes and alcohol can help prevent strokes.

Lea is a woman who takes care of herself. “I don’t smoke, I’m a social drinker, but I work out and I eat right,” she says.

The fine print

Lea met with her neurologist a week after the incident to go over more test results. Everything came back clear.

She thinks her stroke was caused by the birth control pill she was on at the time, Loestrin24 Fe.

“I’d been praying that it was my birth control pill because that’s something I can change,” she says.

Though she’ll never know for sure, her doctor acknowledged that her birth control pill was the likely culprit.

“He said it without saying it,” Lea says.

The fine print of Loestrin24 Fe, like most oral contraceptives, lists blood clots, stroke and heart attacks as associated risks.

“You think it’s never going to happen to you,” Lea says.

Darkhabani says a stroke brought on by a birth control pill is much less common, especially without other risk factors in place.

The same day Lea suffered her mini stroke, a Danish study on birth control pills and stroke risk was released in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The findings conclude that hormonal contraception increases the risk of heart attack and stroke, but the overall risk for individual women is very low.

The drug company behind Loestrin24 Fe says “women with migraine headaches also may be at increased risk of stroke when taking the pill.”

However, Darkhabani says the relationship between migraine and stroke is controversial because migraines are so common.

“There are reported cases of severe migraines that lasted several days that eventually resulted in a stroke,” but studies are inconclusive, he says.

Prior to starting Loestrin24 Fe in November, Lea had a history of PMS-related migraines. “That’s why I went on the pill in the first place,” she says.

According to Heart Healthy Women, the risk of stroke is 1 in 10,000 in women under 35 on low-dose pills who don’t smoke or have high blood pressure.

“You don’t question what you put in your body. You listen to what the doctor says. The doctor didn’t know I was going to be 1 in 10,000,” she says.

‘None of it matters’

Three months ago, Lea’s mother, Barb “Big Momma” Wohlwend, was diagnosed with Stage 3c ovarian cancer.

In the time since, Lea has felt both devastated and blessed. The cancer diagnosis taught her to focus on what’s really important.

“I honestly have no time to care about anything else in the world because none of it matters,” she says.

Wohlwend, of Henning, Minn., started her third round of chemotherapy on Friday, a week after Lea was released from the hospital.

The perspective Lea has gained from her mom’s experience thus far helped her get through her own.

“I think once you figure out that life goes on, you become numb to these experiences because there’s nothing you can do to change them,” she says.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Meredith Holt at (701) 241-5590