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Memphis called buckle of the stroke belt; unlikely stroke victim speaks out

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- "I never had any medical problems. I don't have a history of any sort of disease in my family. Not to mention I am 28. Why is this happening to me? "

That was the question Jessica McCollum was left with after a health crisis that started with a headache.

"This headache was different. For two weeks prior, I was nauseous, dizzy," she said.

She blacked out. When she came around, her left side was going numb.

"I am looking at the my legs saying walk and nothing happened," she recalled.

This 28-year-old was having a stroke.

"It's not supposed to happen to young people is what I thought. My grandmother had a stroke and she is 80 plus yeas old."

"Stroke is more common in the elderly, but in reality, it's an equal opportunity mischief-maker," said Dr. Marc Malkoff, a Professor of Neurology at University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

He told WREG's April Thompson strokes happen when blood vessels are blocked or rupture. It can be hard to detect.

"Typically it is caused by trauma, but trauma can be obvious like whiplash in an accident or subtle like turning the head suddenly," Dr. Malkoff explained.

Malkoff said there could have been something that happened that McCollum didn't even notice. The trauma may have been trivial.

"I said 'No it's fine. I am just going to shake it off. Not that big a deal, it's just a bad headache,'" said McCollum.

It turned out to be much more. Ever since, she has been in therapy learning to walk again.

"Jessica is the new age of stroke," said her Physical Therapist Angela Wingfied, who uses challenging exercises as therapy. "She needs to tap into coordination issues. So we may stand on the half ball and have her draw on the mirror."

Wingfield herself suffered a stroke at 33.

"That's one of the things about me having a stroke that helps me with patients. I can pick up on smaller issues," said Wingfield.

Memphis is said to be the buckle of the stroke belt.

"The diet here tends to be high in sodium and fat. We have a lot of African-Americans who have some what high incidences of stroke. We have a lot of hypertension," said Dr. Malkoff.

Memphis is also one of only a few cities to have a Mobile Stroke Unit, an ambulance just for stroke calls.

"This pretty much is what makes us different from a regular ambulance. This is our CT Scanner. They can look at different regions of the brain and see where the stroke might be coming. They can see the blockage on the bleed.," said Paramedic Patrick McDevitt, who works on the Mobile Stroke Unit.

"What we are trying to do is increase survival by doing all this at curbside rather than transporting to the hospital and doing some treatment in the hospital."

It doesn't matter the age. The CT Scanner can be used on the young and the elderly. The unit wasn't operating when McCollum had a stroke, but now its running every other week, helping save precious minutes when minutes count.

"Listen to the body and pay attention. If you think something is wrong check it out," advised McCollum.

In its first 47 days of use, the Mobile Sroke Unit made more than 100 calls and transported more than 60 stroke victims.
Experts told WREG when it comes to detecting stroke,  remember FAST. If you notice facial drooping, arm weakness, and speech difficulties, don't waste time, call 911.