Never Too Young to Have a Stroke: Dan Ortiz's Story
May 23, 2019 Cedars-Sinai Staff
At age 33, Dan Ortiz woke up with what he thought was a terrible hangover.
He had a pounding headache and pain behind his left eye. He brushed it off as one too many glasses of wine the night before.
"He looked at me and said, 'Are you having a stroke?'"
Dan headed to work, but took an Uber instead of driving himself since he was feeling dizzy and disoriented.
Dan made it through his morning meetings before deciding to go home. He spent the rest of the day in bed.
The next morning, Dan woke up to find his left arm totally numb. His fiancé, Derek, noticed something more—one side of Dan's face was drooping.
Read: When Stroke Strikes, Act FAST
"He looked at me and said, 'Are you having a stroke?'" Dan remembers.
"I couldn't figure out why he was saying that because when I looked in the mirror I thought I looked fine."
Dan was in good health and didn't think anything serious was happening. He figured the symptoms would pass soon and went back to bed.
Going to the hospital
Later that day, Derek was explaining Dan's absence at brunch with friends. After hearing the symptoms, one of them—a doctor—told Derek to take Dan to the hospital right away.
"Derek came home and said, 'We're going to the hospital,'" says Dan. "I didn't want to spend my Saturday there. It just seemed like overkill."
In the emergency room at Cedars-Sinai, doctors quickly diagnosed the problem. Dan was having an ischemic stroke, the most common type of stroke, which occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off.
"This isn't something I expected to happen at 33, but this experience has helped me reframe what's important in life."
During an ischemic stroke every second counts and emergency treatment is critical for survival. At Cedars-Sinai, the Stroke Program is made up of specially trained experts ready to respond quickly in the event of a stroke.
Dan was prepped for surgery within hours of arriving at the hospital.
"It was definitely not the most stress-free moment of my life," Dan says.
"I was thinking I'm too young for a stroke and I just wanted to get it over as quickly as possible."
Neurovascular surgeon Dr. Nestor Gonzalez performed surgery to remove the clot causing the stroke. Afterward, Dan spent a week being monitored in the neurology intensive care unit.
In the Newsroom: Stroke Patient Makes Full Recovery, Runs Two Marathons
On his way to recovery
"When we see the kind of brain injury Dan suffered, we would expect things to be much worse," says Dr. Konrad Schlick, a neurologist who's been treating Dan since the stroke.
"While he's young for a stroke, his age likely helped with the recovery."
In the weeks after surgery, Dan had difficulty finding words. He did speech and physical therapy. He remembers struggling with one thing in particular—closing cabinets and drawers.
"Derek said it was like living with a ghost. He would go in the kitchen and all the cabinets would be open," Dan says. "He had the patience of a saint."
Dan had worried his memory would be impacted but was pleasantly surprised to find it unaffected.
Read: Stroke Patient Kate Briscoe Is Beating the Odds
Dan was eager to get back to "normal." Following 6 months of home recovery, he went back to work.
Dan takes medication to help manage his epilepsy and he doesn't let it or the stroke bring him down.
"This isn't something I expected to happen at 33, but this experience has helped me reframe what's important in life," says Dan.
"It's forced me to slow down and now I don't sweat things like I would have before."
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