Ernesto Lopez with his wife, Tanya, and five-month old daughter, Elianna.

At 37 years old, Ernesto Lopez didn’t have a reason to think he’d be at risk for a stroke. In good physical shape, the Army veteran had completed a Spartan race just three days before he fell to the floor at a local gym, had a stroke and was rushed to Piedmont Fayette Hospital.
“I felt really tired and just fell over,” Lopez said. “I opened my eyes and tried to talk, but I couldn’t. The right side of my body was numb and I tried to get up, but I just fell down. It was very scary.”
Lopez did not have any of the typical risk factors for stroke. He did not smoke or have diabetes and neither his blood pressure or cholesterol was high. Yet, he became one of the estimated 795,000 people that have a stroke every year.
“Because of the blood clot’s location, a large portion of Ernesto’s brain was not getting enough blood to survive for too long,” said Dr. Ernesto Fernandez, a neurologist at Piedmont Fayette. “Thankfully, we were able to administer treatment quickly and removed the clot with a special catheter. One of the other reasons Ernesto did so well is because of his age and having healthy blood vessels. This coordinated team effort saved his brain and possibly his life.”
Two days later, Lopez had 100 percent mobility and was strong enough to go home from the hospital. Lopez, who served two tours in Iraq, knows how lucky he is and feels he is being called upon to share his story to bring awareness to strokes, especially for younger people.
“It’s important to learn the warning signs of a stroke, even if you don’t have any of the risk factors,” Lopez said, adding that he was in the best shape of his life at the time of his stroke.
Stroke, also referred to as a “brain attack,” occurs when a blood vessel breaks or a blood clot blocks an artery, interrupting blood supply to the brain. Strokes can happen to anyone, regardless of age, race or gender. About 10 percent of strokes occur in people aged 18-50, according to the American Stroke Association.
“The good news is: approximately 80 percent of strokes are preventable,” said Dr. Fernandez said. “The most common signs of a stroke include sudden difficulty seeing, walking or talking; weakness on one side of the body; and a sudden, severe headache with no known cause.”
The key to optimal recovery of a stroke is to act F.A.S.T.:
• Face – look for an uneven smile
• Arm – check if one arm is weak
• Speech – listen for slurred speech
• Time – call 911 right away
To learn more about stroke prevention and care, visit