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May is stroke awareness month and knowing the signs of a stroke can be the difference between life and death. For Eric Jacobowitz, he never thought it would happen to him.
“I was young, healthy, in shape, no pre-existing conditions,” said stroke survivor Jacobowitz.
The firefighter and paramedic with Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue was used to saving lives, but in November of 2019, he was the one who needed saving when he suffered a stroke.
“I just started feeling weak. I couldn’t lift up my left arm and I was texting and I couldn’t use my thumb and I was like, this is a little strange. I was kind of just flailing around on the floor trying to get up and I just couldn’t get up,” said Jacobowitz.
The 30-year-old said he had done fire training a few days before, but never noticed anything odd beforehand. He was doing a long workout at Freakin’ Crossfit in Pembroke Pines when he started feeling off. The gym owner, Storm Kaufman, immediately noticed something wasn’t right.
“Storm came over to me and did a little assessment and he was like, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ I was like, I’m just tired, I’m laying on the floor, I just finished working out and I want to relax. He was like, ‘I don’t know man, you’re slurring your words and your face is drooping so I’m gonna call 911,'” said Jacobowitz.
Thanks to Storm’s quick thinking, he was able to pre-alert the hospital about the potential stroke, so Dr. Brijesh Mehta at Memorial West was at the ready when Jacobowitz arrived.
“Luckily for me, I had Dr. Mehta and the team at Memorial and Storm who did the fast intervention. So I’m just grateful to be alive right now with no deficits in the condition I am right now,” said Jacobowitz.
Dr. Mehta treated Jacobowitz for a major blockage of an artery in his brain. The neuro interventional surgeon also says at the height of the pandemic, they noticed fewer people calling 911 or delaying care at the sign of a stroke.
“We had internally within the healthcare system seen a decline week over week as the pandemic took from March into April and May of last year. They were declining to come into the hospital. They were not willing to seek care because of concern about COVID and being infected,” said Dr. Brijesh Mehta with Memorial Healthcare System.
Dr. Mehta stresses that people should never wait if they experience any symptoms of a stroke and there are signs to look out for.
“Sudden weakness in the face, the arm, difficulty speaking, so trouble with speech. Time is of the essence in those situations. For every minute that elapses, about two million neurons are at risk for irreversible damage,” said Dr. Mehta.
After some time in the hospital and about a month and a half of therapy, Jacobowitz has fully recovered. He is back on the job and back to working out. The firefighter has come back stronger than ever and he hopes others learn from his frightening experience.
“Strokes don’t have a type. It can happen to anyone whether you’re young or old, in shape or out of shape. Your health and safety is the most important thing, so if you don’t feel like your normal self, go get checked out,” said Jacobowitz.