Sarah Curlee — 27-year-old Stroke Survivor — Nothing Shall Be Impossible Saint Thomas Health

Sarah Curlee — 27-year-old Stroke Survivor — Nothing Shall Be Impossible Saint Thomas Health

In the summer of 2013, Sarah Curlee of Nashville, TN was at her desk working. It was 10 a.m. on a Monday morning. Then, she had a stroke.

Suddenly, a tingling sensation rolled through her body. When a colleague approached Sarah’s desk seconds later to ask a question, she couldn’t speak. “My brain knew what I wanted to say, and I was trying to say it, but no words came out,” she said. “Thankfully, he immediately called it. He realized I was having a stroke, and got help.”

By 10:30 a.m., Sarah Curlee was at Saint Thomas Midtown’s Emergency Department.

Stroke Program Coordinator, Margaret DuFour immediately administered tissue plasminogen activator; tPA is known as the “gold standard” in treating stroke patients. tPa works to dissolve the clot and improve blood flow to the brain and if given within hours of the stroke, may improve recovery.

That day, Sarah Curlee was found to have not one blood clot, but three. Just hours later, surgeons fed a catheter through her groin to her brain, and sucked out two blood clots, one a 6-millimeter clot.

Neurosurgeon Dr. Robbie Franklin said it was one of the biggest clots he had ever taken out.

Sarah Curlee’s story is one you don’t often hear. With low blood pressure and low cholesterol, Sarah is a slim, fit and pretty young woman who exercises five to six days a week participating in kick boxing classes alternating with strength training sessions. She eats well and is never even sick with a cold.

Doctors say Sarah had a hole in her heart that likely led to the stroke, allowing blood clots that form in even healthy people to travel through her heart to her brain. Since her stroke, doctors have closed the hole in her heart.

Sarah is back at work and back to her normal routine. She has stepped up her exercise regimen, saying, “I am changing my life because of this. I have to get back to where I was before the stroke. If anything, I am going to live life even more fully than I did before.” Sarah says she’s well-known to close friends and family as tenacious. It’s a quality that has come in handy in the aftermath of the stroke. “I don’t let things stop me,” she says.

Before moving to Nashville, Sarah earned a photography degree from Catawba Valley Community College and then a forensic chemistry degree from Appalachian State University. She works as an analytical chemist.

But Sarah Curlee has been changed by this experience. “I realize now that I’m breakable,” she says. “And while I usually am quiet at work, I’m more outgoing now. I never realized how much people like me,” she says with a smile. “So many people have come up to me and talked to me about my stroke. It’s helped me be more open to people.”

Sarah says she’s also grateful for the strong support she’s received from her family and her boyfriend. “My family rushed here immediately from the Carolinas to be with me,” she said, “and my boyfriend has been here every day to support me throughout.”

Sarah says the staff at Saint Thomas Health is “amazing”. They just wanted to make sure I was okay. They have been fantastic. From the Emergency Department to all of my doctors, Dr. Malik Ibrahim, Dr. Robbie Franklin, Dr. Mark Stankewicz among others. I just can’t say enough for how much they have cared for me and about me.”

How many 27-year-olds have a stroke? Not that many; 75 percent of strokes occur in people over age 65. But stroke numbers in younger people are rising, nearly doubling in the mid-1990s, according to academic journal Medical News Today.

It’s clear when you listen to Sarah talk about her experience, and see the strength, confidence and poise she exhibits about her own future, that the face of stroke may not be the face we’re used to.

“I have an amazing second chance at life”, says Sarah. “And while I might not be able to go out and see the world and do all the things on my bucket list right away, I have a long life ahead of me to achieve my goals and I will be sure not to waste it by having a negative attitude. So cheers to the life I have ahead of me and an endless thank you to the people in my life that saved me and helped me through everything… thank you, thank you, thank you”.


  1. Carol Bonnell on October 24, 2019 at 9:47 am

    I had a stroke. Got drove 2 hrs away to a hospital. No surgery. Was there a week. It was called a cryptnotic stroke. Then After I I found out I had a small hole in my heart and diabetes 2.

  2. Erin Averyt on October 24, 2019 at 9:54 am

    Hey Sarah I’m Erin I’m a care giver to a TBI friend how long did it take you to learn how to walk and talk again

  3. Darwin G. Figueroa Jr. on October 24, 2019 at 10:09 am

    You give me strength!!!

  4. Nathan Faust on October 24, 2019 at 10:15 am

    Sarah, from one stroke survivor to another great job in get back to normal or pretty close. I didn’t know that I had had a stroke for a full week after I had my stroke. I had my stroke on a Sunday morning when I was still asleep. I remember I woke up and thought that I had a weird dream and that it was really strange, but then I had a hard time walking. But I just got ready and went to the temp job I had for Saturday and Sunday. I sat at a desk and checked wrist bracelets for those who were worked there, and took money from those when were going to the event I was working at. I got through the day and then went home when it was over. Then Monday I didn’t do much, Tuesday I felt sick so I went to the ER at the VA hospital. Wednesday I was still sick so I went back to the ER. The same Dr as Tuesday thought it was the flu. Same Dr Wednesday same it’s the flu diagnosis, but I couldn’t keep anything down, even water. So I went home with my parents Wednesday and stayed with them then. That is until Saturday when my mom called a nurse and then my mom checked my blood pressure and it was 180 over 140, the nurse said to go to the ER right away, so we did. The Dr said that I had been to the ER 3 times since Tuesday, so something was wrong and they could admit me to the hospital to find out what was wrong. The 1st cat scan didn’t show anything, but the 2nd with dye didn’t show one of my blood vessels in the back of my neck, that’s when the neurologist knew I had a stroke because it was blocked. It was just over a week after I knew that I had it after I had before I knew that. I had to work very hard to be able to do things again like walk. After a stroke your life is never the same again. You have to work very hard to get as much of your old life as possible. If you don’t work hard to get those things back then you will never get them back into your life, or if you take it easy later, you can still lose those things, it’s like you have to really work out every day, the rest of your life. Like I said before, the old life you knew before your stroke is over and dead. You have to work and life in your new reality after your stoke. You can hate the new life you are living in after your stoke all you want, or you can work harder then you’ve ever worked in your life to get back as much ability as you had before your stroke, but that still might be enough. If you had a stroke in the wrong place at the wrong time, you might have lost all ability to take care of yourself or to do anything for yourself. Them is the breaks when it comes to having a stroke. Some people will never be able to take care of themselves the rest of their lives, and others only if they work hard. In recovery I worked harder then I ever worked in my life. I have never worked harder then I did then. I could barely walk then the 1st week I was in the Hospital, I was wheeled by someone everywhere I went, then I went to using a walker everywhere I went, I got to the point of never needing the walker ever. I still have the walker to this day, I have it leaning against a wall at my place to be a reminder of how far I’ve come and where I was when I was in the hospital. Wherever I live I will have that. I couldn’t walk without it when I 1st started after my stroke, now you see me walk and you would never realize that I had had a stroke 2 years ago. Praise God for how far I’ve come so far.

  5. David Barban on October 24, 2019 at 10:20 am

    Wow! You are coureageous! I had two CVA’s in 1969. I was 5./sah. Good luck for your continuation. David Barban

  6. Jackie. H on October 24, 2019 at 10:22 am

    Hi Sarah how long did it take for you too walk again after your stroke?

  7. Da Ni on October 24, 2019 at 10:22 am

    My stroke has effected my emotions I cry a lot I use to think I was hard as nails crazy how things have changed I hope all stroke surviver a swift recovery the brain has A way of repairing itself

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