Cody Dietz had probably slept at his friends’ houses countless times. But after his mom didn’t hear from him one morning, she began to panic. And when she spoke to him on the phone sometime later, the sound of his voice confirmed her worst fears.
Cody comes from York, Pennsylvania, and in 2008 he was a regular teenager like any other. Indeed, he lived at home with his mom, Bonnie, his dad and sister, and he was fond of sleeping over at friends’ houses.
On one such occasion, in June 2008, Cody had been out drinking with his peers before staying over at a pal’s house. The following day, his mom and dad were at work. But mom Bonnie became concerned when he didn’t come home and wouldn’t pick up his phone.
As his parents’ panic began to escalate, someone who was with Cody contacted his dad. The friend held a phone up to Cody, but all his father could hear was gargling. From that moment, it was clear that something was seriously wrong with the 17-year-old.
That’s when Cody’s friend’s dad came on the phone. “Your son’s incoherent,” he said, as Bonnie later told the Penn State website. “I want to call 911.” And with that, they rushed Cody to the nearby York Hospital.
It was then that doctors gave Cody’s parents some devastating news. The teenager had suffered a massive stroke on the left side of his brain. Furthermore, they considered his condition to be so serious that paramedics transferred him by helicopter to the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.
His neurologist there was Dr. Ray Reichwein. And what worried Reichwein the most was the delay in diagnosing Cody. “The timeline of the diagnosis is key,” he told Penn Live in 2012. “Many of the therapies have the best outcome when done within six hours. Cody’s delay in diagnosis was close to 12 hours.”
Part of the problem is that people often associate strokes with older people. As a result, children and teenagers remain unaware of the signs and symptoms. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, though, strokes are one of the top ten killers among children.
And worryingly, more youngsters are suffering from strokes than ever before. “Over the past several years, the common risk factors — things like obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol, type two diabetes, smoking and a more sedentary lifestyle — are becoming more common in kids,” Reichwein explained. “Those risk factors carry a significant risk for stroke.”
Moreover, teens often have no idea how lifestyle choices affect their health. For instance, drinking, smoking, taking birth control pills and marijuana use can all put young people at risk of having a stroke. “Teens think they are indestructible,” Kathy Morrison, from Hershey’s stroke program, told Penn Live.
As a result of the delay of Cody’s diagnosis, then, many of the treatments doctors usually apply to stroke victims were off limits. Instead, Reichwein and his team rushed Cody into an operating theater for emergency surgery. And during the operation, surgeons removed part of his skull and stretched the lining over his brain.
“Cody had lots of brain swelling and no place for it to go,” Reichwein told Penn Live. “His type of stroke carries an 80 percent chance of death and his was probably close to 100 percent without further intervention.” Needless to say, the coming hours would be critical for Cody.
From there, doctors treated the teen with therapeutic hypothermia, a process that lowers the body’s temperature to 33 °F. The treatment helps prevent brain cell death while also decreasing inflammation in the skull.
And while that did stem the swelling, Cody wasn’t out of the woods just yet. “We didn’t know he would make it for a good three weeks. We had so many people praying for him,” Bonnie told Penn Live.
As Bonnie sat at her son’s bedside, she got to thinking about the months prior to Cody’s stroke. And it was then that she realized she may have ignored some vital symptoms. In the weeks leading up to his ordeal, for instance, loved ones had noticed Cody’s speech slurring and his limbs shaking involuntarily.
Doctors sedated Cody for a further two weeks. Then, when he came round, medical staff revealed that it would be a long time before he would be able to speak again. The stroke had affected the whole right side of his body, too.
However, against all the odds, Cody was speaking within just one month of his stroke. What’s more, his first words were to tell his mom that he loved her. And he also later got to thank his surgeons for saving his life.
Yet although he could talk, Cody still had so many skills to relearn. Following his stay in the hospital, then, he went to rehab for three weeks. There, he underwent a range of therapies to help him walk, write and eat once again.
Two years after his stroke, Cody had fully recovered. Furthermore, he saw it as his calling to share his story as a young stroke survivor. Now, together with his mom Bonnie, he’s spreading awareness of the issue.
“I wish I would’ve gone to a doctor before my stroke, but who knew?” Cody told Penn Live. Meanwhile, Bonnie advised people to be vigilant about the major stroke symptoms – arm weakness, face dropping, slurred speech and vision loss. “My advice to parents is don’t ignore any signs your kid may have,” she warned.