Pediatric stroke is not uncommon

Our hearts are heavy after learning about the loss of a talented high school athlete in our community. Recently, Andre Maloney died after suffering from a stroke caused by a blood clot in his brain.

As the details are continuing to emerge, it is beginning to become clear that the stroke Andre suffered from was not a result of a traumatic hit on the field, nor a concussion event. Sadly, his death was an unexpected and unpredictable event that simply took a young life too early.

As our community begins to grieve, many are wondering how a young person could die from what is typically thought of as something that happens to older people?

Despite its seeming rarity, pediatric stroke is not uncommon. In fact, stroke occurs in about 12 of every 100,000 children; and remains one of the top 10 causes of childhood death.  Stroke events can happen in children of all ages, even while still in the womb. And although life-long challenges can occur after a stroke, most children who suffer from stroke fortunately survive.

Pediatric stroke usually occurs when a blood vessel in the brain breaks or a blood clot travels to one of the arteries in the brain. The result of either of these situations is that the brain is unable to receive blood and oxygen correctly, and begins to die. The amount of brain that dies is what determines if the child is able to survive the stroke.

Unfortunately, predicting which child may have an increased stroke risk is difficult. That is why these deaths are so suddenly tragic. Pediatric strokes are generally not associated with the same risk factors as adult stroke. Some children may have a family history of blood diseases that give a clue to a child’s increased risk of stroke. A few other children may have a cardiac condition that is identified in childhood which places them at increased risk. These identified children are few, as most childhood strokes come without any warning. And even after a child has a stroke, the underlying cause is often unidentified.

For parents of active kids, awful events such as these bring to light discussions of  risks of athletic participation. As heartbroken as our community is over Andre’s death, it is important to understand that there have been no significant studies providing evidence that healthy athletes are at a greater risk of stroke. Although Andre began to suffer during a high school football game, the location was likely arbitrary. Sadly, he could have just as easily suffered his symptoms while out with friends, or at home with his family on Thursday night.

Those of us in the Kansas City community, as well as families across the country, send thoughts of encouragement, understanding, and peace to those effected by Andre’s loss. I know that the strength of the Shawnee Mission West students will rise to support each other in celebration of this young man’s memory.

For more information about stroke, please visit the Children’s Hemiplegia and Stroke Association website.

Natasha Burgert is a pediatrician who blogs at KC Kids Doc.

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