- Associated Press - Sunday, June 14, 2015

GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) - It was the middle of the school day and Laurens High School football player Jacob Lovejoy was preparing to lift weights.

After warming up, the Raiders left tackle was ready for a drink of water.

But suddenly, he found he was unable to move his left arm or leg. He collapsed on the training room floor.

“I just felt kind of funny,” he told The Greenville News about that Feb. 9 day.

“I couldn’t talk,” he added. “And one of my football coaches … called the medical trainer at the school to take a look at me. He called 911.”

Though he was only 16 years old, the high school sophomore had suffered a stroke.

“I was kind of in shock,” said his mother, Kimberley Lovejoy. “I’m thinking there’s no possible way. You just don’t hear of it.”

While most people think only the elderly are afflicted by strokes, children can get them too, said Dr. Rodney Leacock, the medical director of Greenville Health System’s Stroke Center who treated Jacob.

“We classified it as a moderate-to-high stroke,” Leacock said of the Waterloo youth. “I told his father, if we don’t do anything, this could be quite disabling.”

Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S. and fourth in South Carolina, which is in the heart of the Stroke Belt, a swath of the country that spans the Southeast, Leacock said.

Nearly 800,000 people suffer a stroke nationwide each year, which translates to about 235 per 100,000 population, he said.

In children, the risk of stroke is about 11 in 100,000 a year, according to the National Stroke Association. And boys and African-American children are at higher risk.

Although pediatric strokes are infrequent, they remain among the top 10 causes of childhood death, Leacock said.

In fact, between 20 percent and 40 percent of children die after suffering a stroke, he said. And of those who survive, six in 10 will have a permanent disability, such as partial paralysis or weakness, he said.

The causes of stroke in children can include adult risk factors, like high blood pressure, Leacock said.

But Sickle Cell disease, the narrowing of blood vessels in the brain, congenital heart disease, blood clotting disorders, accidents, and aggressive sports involving use of the head and neck such as football, wrestling, weight-lifting and cheerleading can also lead to stroke, he said.

Travelers Rest basketball star Andrew Brown was also 16 when he suffered a stroke two years ago, stunning his family and community as well. He came through it and returned to play after he was cleared by his doctors.

And Furman University defensive lineman Allen Edwards also recently suffered a stroke. He’s still working to regain speech and movement.

The Lovejoys were told they may never know what caused their son’s stroke.

Jacob was brought to the ER on a stretcher complaining of a headache.

Earlier that day, his mom said, he had texted her at a conference in Columbia saying he had a bad headache and wanted to go home.

But the whole family had been through a stomach virus the week before and had missed a lot of school and work. So she told him to see the school nurse instead and get something for it.

Before long, she said, the coach was calling to say her son was being rushed to the hospital.

At work in Anderson, Rob Lovejoy was closer, so he arrived first.

“When I first pulled in almost behind the ambulance, I started thinking, ‘Holy Smokes! This is pretty bad when they bypass the local (Laurens) hospital,’ ” he said. “Then the neurologist told me, ‘Your son is having a stroke.’

“It was like a smack in the face. You’re not expecting to hear that about your 16-year-old son.”

At the hospital, Leacock called for a battery of tests, including imaging scans to look for bleeding in the brain, blocked arteries and tissue undergoing a brain attack.

When the last test determined that Jacob was in fact having a stroke, the neurologist wanted to give him the clot-busting drug tPA. It was still within the three-hour window to administer the drug.

But first, he had to discuss it with Jacob’s father, because it was the first time they would be giving it to a child at Greenville Memorial - and because the drug isn’t without risks.

Six in 100 who take it suffer serious bleeding, Leacock said, and three of those could be severely disabled or die.

Lovejoy decided to take the chance because it would improve Jacob’s odds for a full recovery.

“They don’t normally give this to kids. It’s an adult medicine,” he said. “But being as he is the size of an adult, they felt it would do pretty well with him.”

Within a few hours, Leacock said, tests showed the teen was improving.

“He went from not being able to move his left side at all, to starting to have movement in left side,” his mom recalls.

Jacob, who was as confused and frightened as his parents in the ER, knew what a stroke was. But he didn’t know it could happen to someone his age either.

“I was kind of in shock. I never knew of anyone who had a stroke in that age group. I just wanted to go home,” he said, adding that some parts of that day are still missing for him.

“We had the basic idea that everybody has, which is like it’s a medical issue for the elderly,” his father said. “We proved that wrong.”

One of the biggest problems with stroke in children is detecting them, Leacock said. That’s because they can be mistaken for a migraine or other condition with similar symptoms, he said.

Signs of a stroke in newborns and infants include seizures, extreme sleepiness and a tendency to use only one side of the body, according to the stroke association.

In children and teens, symptoms include severe headaches, vomiting, sleepiness, dizziness and loss of balance or coordination.

Jacob spent about 11 days in the hospital and rehab, and was back in school on April 13.

He’s been able to catch up with his class. And though he still has some slight problems with his speech, grip, walking and running, he says he’s almost back to 100 percent.

He aspires to play college football for Ohio State and then pro ball with the National Football League.

But his doctors will have some say in whether he plays again.

“If the doctors say this is kind of an oddball fluke thing and he’s healthy enough to play sports, and that’s what he wants to do, I’m fine with it,” Rob Lovejoy said.

“I want to him to live his life realistically,” said his mom. “But I want him to be happy no matter what he does.”

Jacob, who was on the fence about playing again at first, now says he wants to try.

“I feel fine,” he said. “I’m afraid it will happen again. But I’m not going to live in fear of what might happen.”

At his recent three-month check-up, his pediatric neurologist, Dr. Emily Foster, ruled out going back to the gridiron. At least for now.

“He’s got to sit out the season. And we’re OK with that,” his mom said.

“They’re already practicing full contact. And she feels like it’s just too soon to go back. She feels like he’ll be 100 percent in a year. And that’ll be his senior year. Then he’ll be able to play.”


Information from: The Greenville News, https://www.greenvillenews.com

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