Stratford woman recounts stroke saga at St. Vincent's event

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Leatha Crook, a stroke survivor from Stratford, speaks during a stroke health symposium at St. Vincent’s Medical Center, in Bridgeport, Conn. Oct. 4, 2022.
Leatha Crook, a stroke survivor from Stratford, speaks during a stroke health symposium at St. Vincent’s Medical Center, in Bridgeport, Conn. Oct. 4, 2022.Ned Gerard/Hearst Connecticut Media

BRIDGEPORT — Leatha Crook didn't know she was having a stroke, but she knew something was wrong.

About eight months ago, the 57-year-old Stratford resident had returned from shopping with a friend, and was suddenly unable to move.

"If I moved, I would have fell," Crook said.

Crook spoke Tuesday at St. Vincent's Medical Center in Bridgeport at its annual stroke symposium.

The event, open to the public, provides information on stroke risk factors, treatment and prevention. This year's event also included a testimonial from Crook, who said she had no idea why she couldn't move on the fateful day. She said she also became hot, and began sweating.

Knowing that something was wrong, she had her friend, who was still with her, take her to the St. Vincent's emergency room. That's where, to her shock, she learned she had had a stroke.

"I'm too young to have a stroke," she remembered thinking. "I work out. I exercise."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every year, more than 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke. About 610,000 of these are first or new strokes. Strokes happen when something blocks the blood supply to the part of the brain, or a blood vessel bursts in the brain.

Strokes can cause lasting brain damage, disability or even death. In Crook's case, she's mostly recovered, though she still uses a cane to walk, and has some blurred vision, balance problems and other issues. She spent roughly a month in the hospital, including a week in the intensive care unit. 

Crook gives a lot of credit to the staff who cared for her at St. Vincent's, and presented them with a plaque at the symposium.

"Without them, I don't know where I would be right now," she said. 

She said her story proves that people need to take action right away if they suspect something's wrong with them.

"It's not fun," Crook said. "(Stroke is) a silent killer."

It's not unusual for someone in the midst of stroke to not realize what's happening, said Dr. Kelly Matmati, St. Vincent's chair of neurology and stroke program director.

"It's fairly common, especially for someone whose symptoms aren't common symptoms," she said.

For instance, Matmati said, if a patient has drooping on one side of the face, it's usually obvious to them or those around them that they might be having a stroke. Symptoms such as sudden dizziness or a loss of balance might not be as quickly connected to stroke, she said.

Part of the reason St. Vincent's hosts the symposium is to teach people about stroke, Matmati said.

"We really want to educate the public about stroke, so they know what to do if it looks like someone has any signs or symptoms," she said.