This past month, you probably have noticed the vibrant color pink donning everything from skyscrapers to streaks of hair. But did you know that a young woman is more likely to die from a stroke than breast cancer?
I used to believe that chain smokers, heavy drinkers and diabetics from my parents’ generation were the prime candidates for stroke. Having a little too much fun in your lifetime just might land you a front row ticket to the emergency clinic, a la health karma.
So why is it that happy, healthy, high-heel wearing 20-somethings are suddenly wearing not-so-fabulous hospital gowns? Could it be young women are suddenly becoming more likely than ever to suffer from a stroke?
Nearly two months ago, my sister Kelly Quinn Tantalo became a survivor of Acute Ischemic stroke at only 29 years old.
It was an evening in late August, when Kelly visited with girlfriends at a bachelorette party in Verona, N.Y. Everything seemed fine until the following morning; Kelly awoke with nausea and a painful migraine. The two-hour drive back to Rochester was not easy, and as soon as she arrived home, Kelly immediately laid down hoping to suppress the aftermath of the festivities the night before.
Instantly, upon waking, Kelly’s headache intensified, and she felt like a knife was being stabbed into the back, right side of her brain. The pain was short but extreme, and the left side of her body went completely numb.
Kelly describes the feeling as if someone had drawn an imaginary line down the middle of her face and along the body, so that only her left features felt uncontrollably paralyzed. Following her immobility, Kelly suffered blurry, tunnel vision in her left eye. This terrifying experience landed her in the Intensive Care Unit for brain injuries at Strong Hospital in upstate New York.
Unfortunately, Kelly’s story is not rare, and the scary truth is that many young women are now suffering from stroke-related symptoms.
Shouldn’t you be safe if you’re healthy, have good blood pressure, have no family history of blood clotting and avoid cigarettes? It appears there is a new factor to take into consideration; the use of oral contraceptives.
According to Dr. Irene Katzan, a neurologist at the Cleveland Clinic, blood clotting and strokes at one time occurred with about the same consistency in both men and women. Now more than ever, the rate is “significantly higher in women, and the role of hormones, like birth control and estrogen supplementation” may by the reason.
Kelly’s stroke was traced back to her use of Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo; A highly effective, low-hormone birth control pill with predictable periods and a “low occurrence of common side effects.”
We have all seen the recent news about the popular birth control YAZ flashing across the television.
Once considered a ‘miracle method’ for preventing unplanned pregnancies, acne and premenstrual syndrome, YAZ is now under great scrutiny by the Federal Drug Administration and has faced severe charges by women who have suffered stroke-related permanent damage. While YAZ may be the current drug on the market sitting in the hot seat, it is important to take into consideration that all birth control pills are potentially placing young women at higher risk for stroke and permanent damage.
Kelly is currently undergoing the recovery stages of her stroke. She suffers loss of her peripheral vision and continues to have a residual tingling and numbness in her left hand and leg. She is considerably lucky, as most stroke victims suffer loss of complete vision, dementia, paralysis and even lack of ability to control the bladder and bowel movements.
Kelly’s sincere hope is to spread awareness about strokes and their common link to birth control pills. Many college-aged women are prescribed some oral contraceptive. It might be time to reconsider your birth control methods at the expense of your life. The unfortunate reality is that we all have the potential ability to experience what Kelly has suffered, even at such a young and invincible age.
For Kelly, this first-hand experience was terrifying but also life changing. Her ailment became her biggest assignment and best teacher.
Kelly is a photographer living in Rochester, N.Y. She is happily married and is living life to the fullest.