Judy Harris' advice for stroke patients: "The first 24 hours are the most important they can help you."

Each year nearly 800,000 people in the United States have a stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

That averages out to one stroke victim every 40 seconds.

Not every stroke is accompanied by the same signs, which was the case with Judy Harris. But, thanks to her treatment through the Oklahoma Stroke & Neurological Institute and Kaiser Rehabilitation Center at Hillcrest, Harris finds her situation improving day-by-day.

In mid-March, Harris received a shingles vaccine. Later that day her left hand and arm were going numb, a symptom she was initially told could be a side effect of the vaccine. Harris woke up that night and her whole left side and leg were numb. This time she called her doctor, who suggested she go to the emergency room at Hillcrest South.

Under the care of Andre Fredieu, M.D., medical director of the Oklahoma Stroke & Neurological Institute at Hillcrest, and Parth Shah, M.D., Harris was in need of a CT scan as well as an MRI, which confirmed her stroke. Harris was diagnosed with a blood clot in the right thalamus, which is located near the center of the brain.

“As they revealed the image, there it was,” Harris said. “Bright white on the film. I was really just shocked. I didn’t think it was a stroke.”

Following three days at Hillcrest South, Harris was transported to the Kaiser Rehabilitation Center at Hillcrest Medical Center (HMC) and began therapy.

Aaron McGuire, D.O., who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation and serves as the associate medical director at Kaiser Rehabilitation Center, has treated Harris regularly since she began therapy.

“When she was first admitted, she still had some weakness and poor balance in her leg,” McGuire said. “She needed assistance for changing positions and transfers from a wheelchair and was unable to walk.”

Initially scheduled to remain there for 10 days, McGuire noted Harris progressed quickly and was able to end her inpatient therapy after only a week.

“She did great,” McGuire said. “(Physical therapy) is hard work every single day. It’s an aggressive process. By the time we were done, she was walking more than 150 feet with the assistance of a walker.”

Harris attributed her improvement to determination and the care she received while at Hillcrest.

“I worked really hard and I passed all of their requirements,” Harris said. “And it was great care. The aides were great. They helped me when I needed help. They encouraged me. They don’t let you just sluff off. They want you to get better. That was my goal. I said I was going to get better.”

Harris continues her recovery with multiple therapy sessions each week and cautions those who ignore the possible signs of a possible stroke.

“Don’t feel bad about going to get checked out,” Harris said. “The first 24 hours are the most important they can help you. All I knew was the speech and your face. If I would’ve known one of the signs was numbness, we probably would have gone sooner to the hospital.”

May is National Stroke Awareness Month. If you or a loved one experience sudden signs of a stroke, call 911 immediately and ask to be taken to a Hillcrest-certified stroke center, located at HMC and Hillcrest South. Visit oklahomastroke.com for more life-saving information.