7-Year-Old is in Recovery For Stroke, After Initially Dismissing the Pain as a Headache

Nicole Cavall and Stephen Corner
Facebook/Nicole Cavall

When we think of stroke victims, we almost never imagine a person younger than say, 60. But pediatric strokes -- yes strokes that happen in children 18 or younger -- are more common than one would think. Take one little boy from Mineral City, Ohio, who is proof that tragedy can strike at any age, after he suffered a stroke while in the middle of a soccer game. Luckily for 7-year-old Stephen Comer, he has since made a full recovery, but the incident was too close for comfort for his mom, Nicole Cavall, who was caught off guard by the unusual diagnosis and is now warning other parents that pediatric strokes are both real and dangerous.

  • Stephen was in the middle of a soccer game when he started to feel a headache coming on.

    According to a PSA video made by the American Heart Association, Stephen's mom Nicole explained that her son was waiting in the grass to go back into the game on June 2, 2018, when all of the sudden he collapsed on the ground and was unresponsive. 

    "He didn't respond when I told him that he needed to sit up," Nicole said. "And when I told him to sit up, he laid down in the ground. He collapsed, in a ball, I guess, on the ground. And it took a second to realize what's going on."

  • Advertisement
  • Nicole rushed her son to Akron Children's Hospital, where an MRI revealed that her elementary schooler had had a stroke.

    Doctors at Akron Children's decided that Stephen needed to have surgery immediately and was taken via helicopter to Cleveland Clinic Children's.

    “I’d never heard of a child having a stroke,” Nicole explained in an interview with The Cleveland Clinic's Newsroom blog. “He’d never had a medical problem in his life.”

    “I remember thinking, ‘Is this really happening?’” she continued. “We started the day at a soccer game, and now I didn’t know if my son was going to live.”

  • Stephen is one of the 12 in 100,000 children who have strokes every year. In fact, stroke is the sixth leading cause of death in kids.

    As the Children's Hospital of Pennsylvania notes, "a stroke occurs when blood flow to an area of the brain is blocked or interrupted, either by a blood clot or a broken blood vessel. When either of these things happen, brain cells begin to die and brain damage can occur."

    And Dr. Neil Friedman, MBChB, director of the Center for Pediatric Neurosciences at Cleveland Clinic Children’s explained on the Newsroom blog, that “People generally aren’t aware of pediatric stroke and will attribute symptoms to a headache or almost anything else. That’s why the average (hospital) arrival time for a child with acute stroke is in excess of 24 hours after it takes place.”

  • At the Cleveland Clinic, Stephen received a life-saving angioplasty to remove the blood clot that was blocking the blood vessel to his brain.

    In the video from AHA, his mom explained that the blood clot has "killed off spots" in his brain, and that Stephen "was getting no blood flow." 

    Before the surgery, Stephen was frustrated by his inability to perform basic skills, like walking or standing, and Nicole's normally chatty son could only mumble in response. "You could tell that he was scared," his mom recalled.

    But after the procedure, Stephen has mostly returned to normal. "There's still weakness from the stroke," Nicole said, but by the time Stephen left the hospital he was out of bed, jumping around, and "walked out (of the hospital) 'cause he wanted to," she added.

    Friedman, who has been treating Stephen, spoke with the Daily Mail, and says he is hopeful for the young boy's future. "He's made terrific progress and a tremendous recovery. There's a plasticity in children's brains that allows them to bounce back more quickly from a stroke than maybe an adult might."  Friedman said he has been monitoring Stephen every few weeks since his surgery on August 17 and for now his stroke appears to be stable.

    No one knows for sure why Stephen had the stroke in the first place, but Friedman suspects that the blood clot came from a prior viral illness. "Our theory is [the stroke is] not directly due to the virus but the body's inflammatory response," he explained. "So it doesn't occur acutely with the virus but some weeks or months after the virus -- and that causes some narrowing or weaknesses in part of the brain."

    Stephen is also part of a study at the Cleveland Clinic meant to determine different viruses and viral markers that might be the causes of stroke.

    "There needs to be a general awareness that strokes can happen in children," Friedman warned. "We really need funding and support to help these children. Pediatric stroke is three times more common in children than brain tumors. But everyone has heard of brain tumors in children, so there's lots of research and funding in those fields."

    But for Nicole, she's just happy that her son is healthy again, "Other than wearing a medical alert bracelet, and taking a children's aspirin once a day, he's back to normal. And happy," she said.

health & safety