Toward the end of the second half of the school day on Oct. 24, Angi Conway was helping grade papers at her desk. As a para educator, Conway assists Antwon Hazzard in teaching his freshman math class at Wheatland High School.
It was a completely normal day, Conway said, until it wasn’t.
An excruciating headache began to come over her unlike anything she’s ever felt. She didn’t know at the time she was having an ischemic attack, or a mini-stroke that is caused when blood flow to the brain is cut off temporarily.
“I’ve heard people describe it as one of the worst headaches of your life, but until you feel it, you don’t really have a perception of what it is. It felt like someone was taking an ax and smashing it into my head, just all of sudden,” Conway said. “I knew what I wanted to say but when I tried, I couldn’t speak clearly.”
As she tried to communicate what she was going through, her words became stuttered and slurred. Conway, 45, lost feeling in the left side of her body. All she remembers at that point is making eye contact with Hazzard, who immediately recognized something was wrong and called 911 – a decision that could have ultimately saved Conway’s life as she knows it, because when it comes to strokes, time loss is brain loss.
“We do CPR trainings every two years, and we do emergency trainings as well,” Hazzard said. “They always say during those trainings, the first thing you do if you suspect something serious like a stroke is call 911 and then ask questions later, so I think I just snapped into that training.”
An ambulance took her to Adventist Health and Rideout, where she was evaluated to find out whether the stroke was caused by a blood clot or due to hemorrhaging. Once they determined there was a clot, she met with an off-site neurologist, or what she called a “robot doctor,” to determine if she was eligible for clot-busting medication.
She qualified and was given intravenous tissue plasminogen activator (IV tPA), which is a medication used to dissolve blood clots. Within 40 minutes, the tingling on the left side of her body went away and she started feeling better. Then, someone asked her a question and without realizing it, her response came out coherent.
Caezar Jara, coordinator for Adventist Health and Rideout’s Stroke Program, said his team can only administer IV tPA within a 3-4 our window, meaning responding to a stroke quickly is imperative.
“Every minute a brain is not receiving enough blood supply, millions of neurons die,” Jara said. “It’s really crucial that as soon as you observe symptoms of a stroke, to call 911 and not drive to the hospital, because you can save a lot of time by going to the hospital by ambulance.”
Conway isn’t out of the woods just yet, though. She is still undergoing physical therapy and occupational therapy. The days that followed the incident, she still had a bad headache, and, being left-handed, she could feel pain after the episode every time she went to eat or carry out a task.
It’s unclear exactly what caused the blood clot in her brain. She leads a healthy lifestyle and is young. Doctors believe it might’ve been caused by a rare series of events. Conway had dental surgery about a week and a half prior to her stroke, and a clot that was found in the back of her head in her sinuses, which is still present, might have triggered the stroke, she said.
She’s taking blood thinners to help her body break it up. She has since returned to work.
There’s no telling how someone might react in a situation like Conway’s, but she was lucky that day to have Hazzard in the same room. It is his first year teaching and coaching football at Wheatland High School, though he has taught and worked at other schools in a variety of positions over the years.
Just two years ago, Hazzard suffered from a seizure and a brain tumor himself. He learned through that situation just how important time becomes when dealing with a health issue. Though he lived in Arizona, he had some friends that lived in the Wheatland area that helped him during his ordeal. They are the ones that ultimately convinced him to pick up his life and move to the Yuba-Sutter area.
Even more coincidental, just months before Conway’s health emergency occurred, Hazzard had shared a post on Facebook about how to spot signs and symptoms of a stroke. He had done training on it, but he felt familiarizing himself and others with the information couldn’t hurt.
It wasn’t the first time he’s saved someone’s life by calling 911 either. One time, he encountered a man having a heart attack. As he was on the ground turning blue, the man’s friend froze and didn’t know what to do, so Hazzard stepped up and called 911. First responders saved that man’s life as well.
“Saying ‘thank you’ doesn’t seem big enough,” Conway said. “He could’ve easily called admin or the office instead of 911, which would have taken more time and things might’ve played out differently. So, for him to act quickly and call 911, he definitely saved me.”
During a special presentation at a recent Wheatland High School board meeting, Hazzard was recognized for his quick action, but he still doesn’t feel like he deserves the credit.
“I’m not a hero, all I did was call 911. Those first responders are the ones that save lives. I’ve seen it and gone through it myself, and I knew in the back of my head that the faster you can get to the hospital, the better the chance they will survive,” Hazzard said. “The first responders got there so quick and did their best. They are the true heroes.”