A Stroke at 23: Young Patient Goes Viral After Sharing Their Story Online

Some of us may think of the coronavirus as an illness that affects older individuals, but Riley Behrens, a 23-year-old from Tempe, Arizona, is putting that theory to the test. He recently went viral on social media after sharing his experience of getting infected with the virus. He suffered as a healthy, young man, showing just how dangerous this virus can be for adults in their 20s and 30s.

Worse yet, Behrens didn’t contract the virus due to his own negligence. It’s a tragic story that could change the way young people view the disease.

As he wrote on Twitter, “I’m 23 years old and I just had a stroke due to Covid-19 complications. Not taking this pandemic seriously? Keep reading.”

A Rude Awakening Just Before Thanksgiving

In a lengthy exchange on Twitter, Behrens says it all started before Thanksgiving. In the lead up to the holiday, he was quarantining to protect his family from the virus, considering his father is immunocompromised.

That’s when his friend lost his housing due to the ongoing economic crisis. As a good pal, he decided to let his friend stay with him on the condition that he hadn’t been to any social gatherings and that he would follow the latest safety precautions.

But that wasn’t the case.

As it turned out, his friend had actually just been to a wedding before crashing on his couch, a fact he withheld from Behrens.

Things quickly took a turn for the worst for Behrens. He says he experienced chest pain and headaches upon learning that he had tested positive for COVID-19, forcing him to cancel his plans to see his family.

He then went to a nearby emergency room complaining of weakness on his left side, dizziness, and blurred vision. “I went from feeling mild symptoms to full hospitalization in less than 48 hours,” he said in the thread.

As a young man in his prime, he didn’t have any underlying conditions that put him at risk of serious illness.

“Before this, I was a healthy, young athlete with no major medical conditions,” he wrote online. “Now, I’m being told I will likely never return to contact sports because of lasting lung and brain damage. The risk for a second stroke will always be there, and another head injury could be fatal.”

Suddenly, his entire life had been turned upside down. He went from being a healthy man to having a lifetime of health considerations.

The doctors told him he had suffered from a transient ischemic attack (TIA), a brief stroke-like attack that can last anywhere from just a few minutes to several hours. Patients still need immediate medical attention, so providers can distinguish the TIA from an actual stroke. They can also be warning signs for future strokes.

Behrens has been active throughout the year, participating in protests against police brutality and discrimination against transgender people. Now it seems he’ll be relatively inactive for a while, at least until he gets the all-clear from his physician.

“I’m not walking my dog on long walks,” Behrens said. “I’m not over-exerting myself cleaning my house. I’m not allowed to drive until I’m cleared by a neurologist. I can’t play sports because the risk of another head injury increases the risk of a stroke.”

A Warning for Young People

In light of his experience, Behrens is trying to spread the word about his experience as much as possible so other young people will heed his warning.

“My recovery will involve weeks, if not months of both physical and occupational therapy as well as continuous follow-up with my neurologist to determine lasting effects and damage,” he tweeted. “This is not what anyone should have to go through, let alone a young athlete.”

Some young people may think they are immune to the virus due to their age or health status, but that’s not the case. He ended his message on Twitter with, “Again, please take this pandemic seriously. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Social distance. Limit travel. Follow CDC guidelines. I never thought that I would be affected this way, but here we are. Don’t let yourself be next.”

Doctors have been aware of the risk of stroke in younger patients infected with COVID-19 since April. They say young people can be at risk of a stroke even if they have few or mild symptoms. Recent studies at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix have also backed up these claims.

If you know a young person who’s not taking the threat seriously, Behrens’ story may change their mind.

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