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Indianapolis grandfather shares what life is like after experiencing two strokes in one year

IU Health Mobile Stroke Unit
Posted at 10:15 PM, May 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-14 22:17:32-04

INDIANAPOLIS — Harry Edwards has an unmistakable sense of humor. It's part of what gets him through the days and months after he had not one, but two strokes in the early part of 2020.

Part of his healing process is to make sure others know they are not alone after having a stroke. Every month, he calls up an old friend from high school to chat. Edwards said when that friend first heard he had a stroke, they connected over the phone. Edwards recalled that only a week later, that friend had a stroke.

“I called him up and apologized that apparently didn’t know strokes were contagious over the phone,” Edwards said with a chuckle.

Edwards’ second stroke impacted his short-term memory, ability to walk and to drive.

“I still appreciate I get to wake up to the nightmare because I still get to wake up,” Edwards said.

For 22 years, Edwards’ passion was at the track. He started 'Indy's Racing Cheetahs' for his daughter and niece.

“We’ve had two, three hundred kids a year,” Edwards said.

Never once did he run track, but he quickly became a premiere coach mentoring teens in more than just the sport.

“I always said trust the process and now I have to do what I preach,” Edwards said.

Being alive today, Edwards said, is a feat in and of itself. He said he is grateful for the support of his family and team at IU Health throughout his journey.

“I never met one of them I didn’t like. They treated me like a person and not a statistic,” Edwards said of the doctors and nurses with IU Health who cared for him.

When it comes to stroke care, time is of the essence.

“Every minute that goes by is two million neurons so thirty minutes is a lot of neurons so the faster you can treat people, the better,” Dr. Jason Mackey, Stroke Director of the IU Mobile Stroke Unit said.

Thirty minutes is the time the stroke mobile ambulance is thought to save in stroke treatment.

According to the CDC, a stroke happens every 40 seconds, and every four minutes an American dies from a stroke. In Indiana, the CDC reports stroke is the fifth leading cause of death for Hoosiers.

“In Marion County, we [mobile stroke unit] are dispatched with IEMS and Indianapolis Fire,” Mobile Stroke Program Coordinator and nurse, Sarah Collins said.

Features on board the mobile stroke unit, like a CT scanner allows treatment to start right at a patient’s home. In fact, Edwards’ received treatment this way during his first stroke.

“It’s overwhelming at times but also super exciting because we are treating people like Harry in front of his house and talking to him what a year and some months later and he’s in his kitchen cooking dinner,” Collins said.

Since 2018, the unit has treated hundreds of Hoosiers. Dr. Mackey said this tool is proven to save lives.

“Now that we have the study results showing that yes, we are treating people faster, but also that translates to better clinical outcomes, I think this is a paradigm that’s about to take off,” Mackey said.

As for Edwards, his next chapter he said includes reviewing more tape of his athletes, fishing trips with his big brother and celebrating 40 years of marriage with his wife.

“If something like this happens, just know that life is still great and you can still have fun,” Edwards said.

May is National Stroke Awareness Month, but experts said the conversation should not stop once June 1 hits. It is always important to know the signs and symptoms of a stroke.

Always remember the acronym: "F.A.S.T." It stands for facial drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulties and time.

"Even one of those is enough to call 911,” Mackey said. "There are some risk factors that place people at strokes. So, high blood pressure, smoking, those sorts of things. Everything we can do to reduce the risk of stroke, we want to go after those sorts of things."