James Jr. Had A Stroke And Survived: What You Need To Know About Kids and Stroke.

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Most people think of stroke in older adults. But for James Franklin, Jr., his happened at birth. He then went on to have seizures as a teen until a surgery at Riley Hospital for Children changed his life.

No one knows exactly when the stroke happened. But Tamieka Franklin has no doubt. Her son had the stroke at birth.

“When he came out, he was screaming like no other,” says Tamieka. “I was like, ‘Something’s not right.’”

At first, nurses and doctors assured her that James Franklin, Jr., a plump 8 pounds 5 ounces, was healthy and fine. But as Tamieka was struggling to get James to nurse, a lactation consultant rubbed his head.

She felt his soft spot bulging and pulsing. “Can I see him?” she asked.

Tamieka knew then. Something was terribly wrong. They told her James was having seizures, that he had suffered a stroke. Tamieka and James Sr. were told their son might not make it through the night.

James did make it through that night and went on to be a stellar basketball player at Cathedral High School. But last year, he started suffering seizures, the result of his early stroke. 

In a brave move for a 17-year-old, James underwent a 16-hour brain surgery last year to rid his body of those awful seizures. Jodi Smith, M.D., a pediatric neurosurgeon, spent eight hours on two separate days carefully removing the part of James’ brain where his seizures occured.

And then last season, James played basketball again. Tamieka likes to tell her son’s story to bring awareness to stroke in babies and kids.   

People often don’t think of babies or toddlers or even teens having strokes, but stroke is one of the top 10 causes of death in children. May is Stroke Awareness Month. Here is what you need to know about stroke in children.

Medical conditions associated with stroke

Sickle cell disease, moyamoya syndrome, arterial dissection, autoimmune disorders, congenital heart disease, blood clotting disorders.

 If it looks like a stroke, think stroke

Signs of stroke are often missed in children and teens because people don’t think it can happen to that age group. In addition to remembering the acronym FAST -- face drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulty and time to call – parents should look for these additional symptoms in children.

-- Severe, sudden headache, especially with vomiting and sleepiness.
-- Sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the body (face, arm or leg)
-- Sudden confusion, difficulty speaking or understanding others
-- Trouble seeing to one side or loss of vision
-- Sudden difficulty walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
-- New-onset of seizures, usually on one side of the body

Infants and unborn babies

Perinatal strokes are those that usually occur between the middle of pregnancy and delivery. The cause in most perinatal strokes remains unknown, but it affects about one in 2,000 live births.

In developing babies, look for:

-- Decreased movement or weakness on one side of the body
-- Showing a hand preference before one year of age
-- Developmental delays

Factors that could lead to stroke in babies include:

-- Congenital heart disease
-- Disorders of the placenta
-- Acute blood clotting disorders
-- Infections

In newborns look for signs of:

-- Seizures – repetitive twitching of face, arm or leg
-- Apnea (pauses in breathing) associated with staring
-- Lethargy, poor feeding

Starting healthy habits in kids can prevent stroke later in life:

-- Higher fruit and vegetable intake is associated with lower risk of stroke.
-- Beware of the salty six – breads and rolls, pizza, chicken, cold cuts and cured meats, sandwiches and soup.
-- Replacing salty foods can lower blood pressure, lowering risk of stroke.
-- Sodium intake in the U.S. is higher than recommended. Eat more foods that are high in potassium, like bananas, spinach and avocado to reduce the effects of salt.

Read more about James’ story here.

-- By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.

   Reach Benbow via email dbenbow@iuhealth.org or on Twitter @danabenbow.

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