Darian Isler was making breakfast one morning in 2016 when her fingers got numb and she dropped a slice of toast on the kitchen counter.

Scared and convinced something was terribly wrong, she called for an ambulance. She learned at the hospital that she’d had a stroke — a diagnosis that completely floored her. She’d had no warning signs, and she was just 45 – much younger than the average stroke victim.

“It was a shock,” Isler said. “I didn’t think this would happen to me — I was healthy, and had never been sick in my whole life.”

The medical team at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center in Charlotte administered tPA in an IV to dissolve her blood clots and get blood flowing back to the stroke-affected area of her brain. Three days later, Isler left the hospital with blood-thinner and cholesterol lowering medicines and a follow-up appointment scheduled.

Then she went on with her life, until another stroke put her in the hospital a second time, and then a third, in December 2017, when she learned that she’d also had two “silent strokes” she hadn’t felt. During that last hospitalization, Ayeshia Wright, a nurse practitioner at Novant Health Neurology and Sleep in Charlotte, sat by her bedside and held her hand.

“Darian what are you doing back here?” Wright asked her. At first Isler bristled, then realized that Wright wasn’t scolding, but truly cared. And then they talked, and Isler told her about the obstacles she’d faced since their last meeting.

She couldn’t work because she’d lost partial vision with the second stroke. And so she lost her health insurance, too. When she ran out of her medications she couldn’t refill them and didn’t follow up with her health care appointments because she couldn’t pay.

I can help you with all of that, Wright said.

“Darian, I know you’re upset and I know you don’t feel in control,” Wright told her. “But I want you to take control of your health, and I will walk with you through this. You’re important to your family and to your community. You have children and grandchildren. I want you to imagine how they’d feel without you in their lives.”

Helping solve problems

That conversation resonated with Isler, and she left the hospital determined to fight for herself. During a follow-up visit at Novant Health’s Stroke Bridge Clinic, she and Wright tackled her issues. Wright helped her get insurance through Medicaid, and worked with The Department of Social Services to arrange for transportation to her appointments. She also got Isler into a program that covers drug costs for patients who can’t afford it.

It’s still unclear what caused her strokes, but a number of factors, such as heart defects, injuries, diabetes or unhealthy habits can factor into strokes in younger people. In the United States, just about 10 percent of stroke patients are 45 and under. High blood pressure is the biggest factor and in Isler’s case, high cholesterol levels and smoking could have increased her stroke risk.

She has since quit smoking, bakes food instead of frying it, and takes little walks for exercise. Despite her initial resistance, she agreed to have a heart monitoring device implanted. She’s also joining a monthly support group for younger stroke survivors.

“It’s your new normal. Being able to accept what happens and deal with these fears, and have others who understand what you’re going through helps so much,” Wright said. “Darian has made such big efforts to take control, and she’s now advocating for herself. I am so proud of her.”

‘She has never let me down’

Isler, a former security guard, says she still struggles with not being able to work, or drive, or help her daughter out more with transporting her young grandchildren.

“I’ve been working since I was 15 years old,” she said. “For a while I was stressed out and I was angry a lot.”

But lately she’s noticed that her bad days don’t come as often.

“How are you feeling?” Wright asked her during a recent visit at the Stroke Bridge Clinic.

“I feel good,” Isler said, and looking at her, you’d be hard-pressed to know what she’s gone through.

“That’s what I want to hear,” Wright said with a big smile.

Isler is grateful that Wright stuck with her, and nudged her out of her isolation. She says Wright returns her calls promptly, answers her questions honestly, and lifts her spirits when she feels discouraged.

“Ayeshia is like one of my family members now, she’s so good to me,” Isler said. “She has a family of her own, but I know that she really cares about me and her other patients. She has never let me down.”

For information on Novant Health stroke care, click here .