‘Stroke knows no age:’ 26-year-old LewisGale nurse suffers stroke on job

SALEM, Va. – Every 40 seconds, a person in the United States suffers a stroke, which is why the month of May is recognized as stroke awareness month.

During stroke awareness month, LewisGale Medical Center hopes to educate people about the signs of a stroke by sharing the story of one of their own nurses, Katie Hougasian, who is a stroke survivor.

In January, Hougasian’s work day took a scary turn.

“I’m sitting there, I was typing and all of a sudden, I couldn’t quite type with my left hand. I was missing keys, I was really slow,” she said.

With a numb arm, slurred speech and facial droop, Hougasian’s coworkers quickly realized that the 26-year-old was having a stroke.

“They called a stroke alert. Wheeled me down to CT,” said Hougasian. “My coworkers became my nurses.”

Strokes are commonly associated with older people who have risk factors, like smokers, people with diabetes and high blood pressure.

None of which Katie had.

“Anybody can have a stroke. My mantra right now is ‘stroke knows no age,’” said Elizabeth Hart, LewisGale’s stroke coordinator.

Hart said every second counts once stroke symptoms begin to show. The medicine to stop a stroke needs to be given within four hours of symptoms starting.

The timing of Katie’s stroke could have saved her life.

“An hour later, I could’ve been driving home. Two hours later, I would’ve been asleep with an unknown start time. I mean, it could have been so detrimental,” said Hougasian.

After a month-long recovery in the ICU and inpatient rehab, Katie went back to work at the same unit she had just been a patient in.

She said the experience gave her a new way to connect with her patients.

“I understand, 100% that you want to go home, but it’s better that you get the care and then go home,” she said.

Katie hopes her story will help to educate people on the risk factors and signs of strokes, so more people can recover from them, just like she was able to do.

“Looking for the symmetry. Making sure there is no facial droop, the arm test, making sure there is no drift going on. Speech, making sure they are speaking clearly. And then time, is the T and that’s getting you here to the hospital as quickly as possible,” said Hart.

The acronym, BE FAST serves as a reminder for stroke symptoms.

B- balance

E- eyes/vision

F- face droop

A- arm drift


T- time: Get to hospital ASAP

This weekend, LewisGale will partner with Salem Red Sox to host the annual Strike Out Stroke game, where Katie will get to throw the first pitch.

The game is Saturday at 6:05 p.m.

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