MILROY - As the doorbell rang, quick footsteps could be heard racing toward the door. When it opened, a seemingly healthy young boy hopped outside to say hello.
Three-year-old Aaden James Stevens lives with his mother and grandparents in Milroy. He talks about his friends, loves attending preschool and can't get enough of the ABC TV show, "Wipeout."
Aaden is also a stroke survivor.
Photo submitted by LINDSAY STEVENS and RUTH ANN KEPHART
Aaden James Stevens, 3, of Milroy, was diagnosed with in-utero stroke when he was 18 months old. He receives speech, physical and occupational therapies to help him recover from the effects of the stroke.
"A lot of people say, 'I've never heard of such a thing,'" Lindsay Stevens, Aaden's mother, said about childhood stroke.
According to a handout from the Children's Hemiplegia and Stroke Association, a stroke occurs when blood flow is interrupted to any part of the brain, resulting in tissue injury and loss of brain function. It's something often viewed as occurring in the elderly. However, the handout states that pediatric strokes occur in 11 out of 100,000 children.
When Aaden was born on June 13, 2008, he appeared healthy, Lindsay said. It wasn't until he was about four months old that she noticed he was not meeting milestones typical of other children his age.
"He didn't sit up, didn't coo. He wasn't using his right hand," Lindsay recalled.
Ruth Ann Kephart, Aaden's grandmother, said he was slouching in his highchair, and one of his legs turned in and had weakness, causing a dropped foot.
"'Every baby is different' is what we were told," Lindsay said, but the family knew something wasn't right.
Lindsay insisted that he see a neurologist. At 18 months old, Aaden had an MRI scan that diagnosed him with in-utero stroke. After receiving the diagnosis, Lindsay called Early Intervention Services, a program designed to provide support to children with developmental delays.
"It was important to have somebody else take interest and concentrate on him, rather than being overwhelmed with the diagnosis," Kephart explained.
Now, Aaden attends class twice a week at Patchwork Pals Preschool and receives speech therapy, physical therapy and occupational therapy. With help from his therapists, he has become much stronger. His biggest struggle now is communication, Lindsay said. Although he has no trouble understanding those around him, Aaden sometimes has difficulty expressing himself. Even so, he was eager to show off all that he has learned, from singing the ABC song to identifying shapes.
In addition to his therapists and teachers, Aaden has a strong support system at home. His father, Toby Parson, is very helpful and supportive of Aaden, Lindsey said. His grandparents, on both sides, have also been very involved in his rehabilitation.
In Aaden's case, early detection and continued therapy have made the difference in his recovery. His family encourages other parents to be aware of the symptoms of pediatric stroke so that it can be accurately diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.
According to the CHASA handout, childhood stroke victims may experience seizures, apnea, early hand preference, delays in gross motor development, restricted movement or sudden one-sided paralysis.
Although there are over 100 known risk factors associated with pediatric stroke, diagnosis is sometimes delayed or children are misdiagnosed, the handout states.
As for Aaden, the journey is not over. Each day, he works hard to overcome the effects of his stroke, and says that "playing on the playground" is what he absolutely loves about life.
The month of May has been designated National Pediatric Stroke Awareness Month. In celebration of his upcoming fourth birthday, Aaden's family asks each person who reads his story to tell four people about childhood strokes this month.
For more information about pediatric stroke, visit www.CHASA.org.