DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — May is National Stroke Awareness Month, and the annual campaign aims to help people learn about the sudden signs and risk factors for stroke.

A stroke can happen suddenly, without warning, and the signs can be easy to miss.

For one woman, quick thinking helped save her life.

In August 2016, Duke Health employee Kara Lyven started her day like normal, exercising on a stationary bike in her garage.

“I hopped on the bike for what I hoped was a really quick ride before I went to work,” Lyven said.

Within minutes, Lyven didn’t feel well and noticed a sudden headache. She went inside.

Fortunately, her husband was home at the time, she said.

“I essentially recognized that I was probably having a stroke,” Lyven said. “I knew enough about the initial signs that I was concerned, and he was concerned and so he called 911 and I quickly got picked up and was brought to Duke Hospital.”

Doctors at Duke confirmed Lyven had a hemorrhagic stroke, that means her brain was bleeding.

“Which is what accounts for the headache I was having, which is not always a typical stroke sign, but I did have all the other typical stroke signs,” she said.

Every 40 seconds someone in the United States has a stroke and every 3.5 minutes, someone dies of a stroke, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Health experts like to use the acronym “BE FAST” to remember the signs of stroke and what to do.

  • Balance
  • Eyes
  • Face drooping
  • Arm weakness
  • Speech difficulty 
  • Time to call 911

“Two million brain cells die every minute during a stroke, so time is of the essence, and the faster you can get to a hospital the faster we can help you,” Melissa Freeman said, a Stroke Program Manager at Duke University Hospital.

Freeman said there are modifiable risk factors that people have control over, though, such as blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, weight and diet.

“Know your numbers, know what your blood pressure is, and get it under control if it is too high,” Freeman said. 

Lyven said she’s had a near full recovery since her stroke and encourages others to know the signs and react quickly.

“The care that I received was amazing and top quality and that certainly was very beneficial, but I think that if I had delayed with the recognition of a stroke, that I could have potentially been in a very different situation than I am today,” Lyven said.

Additionally, key resources to help learn more about stroke preparedness are: