Brain Health

The Next Generation of Stroke Education

Tessa David was showering in her Dallas apartment when her life changed.

Tessa was a 28-year-old model, dancer, and professional cheerleader with a bright future. She grew up in Bloomington and spent five years with the Indianapolis Colts before moving to Dallas to try out for the Dallas Cowboys’ cheerleading squad.

But on December 1, 2014, she suffered a severe stroke that paralyzed her right side and injured 60 percent of the left side of her brain. She lay in her apartment for 36 hours before getting help—and every minute of those 36 hours affected the severity of Tessa’s condition and her chances for recovery.

Tessa’s life as a cheerleader was over—but her inspiring story as an advocate for stroke awareness was just beginning. Thanks to a partnership with Dr. Daniel Sahlein, an interventional neuroradiologist with Goodman Campbell Brain and Spine, Tessa is helping middle school and high school students in Central Indiana learn the signs and symptoms of stroke, bringing awareness of the need for speed to a new generation. 

“We have better ways to treat people who’ve suffered a stroke than ever before,” said Dr. Sahlein. “We’ve made huge leaps in the safety and efficacy of stroke treatment. We simply need stroke patients to seek medical attention more quickly so that we have an opportunity to save vital brain tissue.”

Dr. Sahlein’s goal is to educate young people and impress upon them the need for speed. “When a person has a stroke, we like to say that ‘time is brain,’” he said. “The sooner a patient recognizes the symptoms and gets help, the more treatment options we have and the better the chances for excellent clinical outcomes.” 

Following her stroke, Tessa went back to her hometown of Bloomington to work on her recovery. Last year, she and Dr. Sahlein developed their program to bring stroke awareness to students. 

“Tessa is a really engaging personality, and her story is powerful,” Dr. Sahlein said. “Students make an emotional connection with Tessa immediately.  Once the students are engaged, I have the opportunity to teach them about the science of stroke.  It’s unbelievable how much the students absorb.”

In 2017, Tessa and Dr. Sahlein brought their innovative program to classes at Guerin Catholic High School and Park Tudor in Indianapolis, as well as Bloomington North and Bloomington South High Schools. And it may have already helped save a life. “I’ve heard one story of a student who heard our presentation, observed stroke symptoms in a family member, and called 911,” said Dr. Sahlein.

What’s next? Tessa and Dr. Sahlein hope to take the program national. “Tessa’s story brings home the importance of getting stroke patients medical care within a critical and very brief period of time. When more people know the signs and symptoms of stroke, we will have the opportunity to greatly improve patient outcomes.”

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