Karen Bjorgan was having the worst headache of her life. It was 1992, and the 32-year-old had just given birth to her first child three weeks before. After a week of extreme pain and visits to the emergency room, she woke up in the hospital unable to speak.

As it turned out, what Karen had been experiencing were the symptoms of a stroke.

After Karen was diagnosed with a stroke, she would spend the next 50 days at Methodist Hospital's Stroke Center. She had to relearn how to walk, talk and care for herself and her family.

Risk of stroke more common among women

Stroke affects almost 800,000 Americans each year. It’s the 4th leading cause of death and is more common in women than in men.

“Strokes can happen at any age, and can occur in otherwise healthy people,” says Matthew Ostrander, MD, a Park Nicollet neurologist. “Many people with stroke risk factors are not aware they have them. That’s why it is important to have regular physicals.”

Common risk factors for stroke include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Age
  • Heart conditions

Risk factors for stroke that are specific to women include:

Two years after her stroke, Karen started a support group. She wanted there to be a forum where other young people who had suffered strokes or brain injuries could connect.

This group was the root of Park Nicollet’s INSPIRE program, which Karen and a team of doctors and therapists launched in 1997. This program offers support, education and hope to stroke survivors and their families.

INSPIRE offers resources such as:

  • Support groups
  • Fitness classes
  • Art clubs
  • Education

Even though Karen is more than 20 years into her stroke recovery, she hasn’t forgotten what it felt like.

“Isolation is the enemy in a stroke recovery,” she says. “The key is to find a community where you feel comfortable. They can help you move to the next level of recovery. And they can help you gain purpose. That’s why INSPIRE exists.”

To learn more about INSPIRE, visit our Methodist Stroke Center.