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An emergency room nurse took one look at Sarah Porter — an athletic sophomore at the University of Maine — and diagnosed her as faking a stoke. Porter hadn’t uttered the word “stroke,” so it was terrifying when the nurse told her, “No one your age in good health has a stroke. You’re just trying to avoid taking your finals.”

Porter tried to respond. But she couldn’t: “There was a disconnect between what was in my head and what was coming out in my speech.”

That’s because she wasn’t faking. The 26-year-old may be alive today only because other staffers in the emergency room took her symptoms seriously, according to a profile in the February issue of Good Housekeeping. “At 20 Years Old, I Had a Stroke and Didn’t Realize It” by Marisa Cohen spotlights Porter’s story to remind readers to be on the lookout for signs of stroke, no matter your age.

For Porter, it all started in math class, where she briefly blacked out. A concerned classmate told her he suspected she’d had a seizure, but she stayed in her seat. When it came time to grab her books and leave, another odd thing happened: Her right arm felt tingly, and her right leg wouldn’t work properly. As Porter dragged herself back to her dorm room, her face started spasming.

That’s when she called home. Her mom (a physician assistant) and dad (a nurse practitioner) arranged to get her to the ER.

Porter left the hospital a week later, after regaining the ability to walk on her own. But she couldn’t remember any of her sophomore year of college, or big parts of her childhood. And she later suffered a second stroke. Both, it turns out, were caused by an abnormal cluster of blood vessels, which is rare. The majority of strokes, the article notes, are caused by blood clots “that either originate in the brain or travel there from elsewhere in the body.”

Maintaining a healthy diet and getting regular physical activity reduces one’s risk for the more common kind of stroke. So Porter has found purpose in her recovery by raising awareness about the issue. She serves as a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women campaign. (Feb. 3 is its National Wear Red Day.) Maybe her story can help more people — even ER nurses — recognize a stroke when they see one.