Her “Vision Trouble” Turned Out to Be a Sign of Stroke—But She Ignored It

Updated: Jul. 01, 2022

One out of five stroke patients are under 55, and it claims the lives of women more often than breast cancer. Lauren Barnathan was only 30 years old when she ignored her early stroke symptoms and it may have cost her a full recovery.

Lauren Barnathan had just stepped off the treadmill in her Orange Theory fitness class when she noticed she couldn’t focus on the room around her. Having recently gotten engaged to an emergency physician, she knew who to call. The symptoms cleared up quickly, and her fiancee recommended she go home and rest. “I knew something wasn’t right but I really didn’t think too much of it,” says the 30-year-old. “I had the day off so I just spent the day resting, and nothing else happened. Everything seemed normal.” That night in bed, though, Barnathan realized something was horribly wrong. (Vision changes are just one of the stroke symptoms to never ignore, here are 15 others to watch out for.)

“I was thrashing around in the bed, trying to turn over, but I couldn’t because the entire left side of my body was numb. I thought maybe I was having a seizure. My fiancee asked what was wrong and turned on the light and that’s when he saw that the left side of my face was drooping. My speech was slurred, too.”

Despite her alarming symptoms, Barnathan says she was “blissfully unaware” that there was anything wrong; she kept cracking jokes and telling her fiancee not to call 911. He knew otherwise: Barnathan was having a stroke as he assessed her using the stroke sign acronym BE FAST: balance loss, eyesight loss, facial drooping, arm weakness, and speech difficulty equals time to call 911—which he did. According to Barnathan, a speech pathologist who works in the same hospital as her now-husband, this happens often. “Many times the person having the stroke has no idea anything is wrong, and it’s a bystander who sees the signs and seeks help. I really had no idea that my speech was slurred and my face was drooping.”

Lauren HospitalCourtesy Lauren Barnathan

Barnathan was taken to the hospital within thirty minutes, where a CAT scan revealed a blood clot in her brain; it was the result of a torn carotid artery. “I remember the doctor telling me I had salvageable tissue and asking for consent to do surgery. That’s when it set in that my brain was at risk for further damage. I work in healthcare and know the lingo, so it wasn’t until that point that I had any idea how serious it was.”

lauren weddingCourtesy Madison Hope Photography LLC

After surgery to remove the clot, Barnathan made an rapid recovery. “The first day after surgery I was 80 percent better, and in the first 48 hours I was 95 percent recovered.” She credits the quick response of her fiance for her progress. “A lot of my recovery has to do with my age and getting to the hospital right away. The longer you wait to seek help, the more irreversible damage is done.” Barnathan had a stroke related to a blood clot—here’s why that is different from an aneurysm.

Today, Barnathan says she’s 99 percent recovered—and she could be 100 percent, she believes, if she had sought help the moment she noticed her vision was different at the gym. “I still have left arm and hand weakness. Typing is really difficult for me. I could have had a complete recovery if I had gone to the hospital right away when I knew something wasn’t right.”

Lauren weddingCourtesy Madison Hope Photography LLC

Barnathan stresses that a stroke can happen at any age, and knowing the signs is vital. “Learn the BE FAST signs now—before you’re sitting in a stroke recovery group. Get help right away, even if you doubt your sign is related to a stroke. The worst-case scenario is that you go in, get checked, and the hospital sends you home. If you suspect someone else is having one, then get them to the hospital immediately. Go to strokeawareness.com and educate yourself.” And learn some of the other sneakier symptoms to watch out for, especially for women.