Mumbai: Miraculous recovery by fashion designer who suffered stroke at 34

At 34, fitness loving fashion designer Keith Gomes was the unlikeliest stroke victim; baffled by lack of apparent cause 

When 34-year-old Bandra-based fashion designer Keith Gomes experienced an excruciating pain in his head last Friday evening, he dismissed it as a bad headache. He went to the gym like he had been doing for the last eight years, six days a week. "On Saturday morning, I was feeling better," he said from his bed at Peddar Road's Jaslok hospital. "I went to my Worli office and was discussing design ideas with my boss Sonu Dharnidharka, when suddenly I realised I was having trouble speaking. I thought I was imagining it." It was when he realised that he could not move his right hand that he panicked. "Sonu took one look at me and knew she had to move fast. With help from a peon, she took me to Breach Candy hospital where I threw up as I was being wheeled in."

Keith Gomes at the hospital right before discharge. PICS/SHADAB KHAN
Keith Gomes at the hospital right before discharge. PICS/SHADAB KHAN

After an initial test, doctors suggested he be rushed to Jaslok where Code Gold, especially meant for stroke victims, was put into action. Speed was key and it was because of it that Keith has managed a full recovery from a brain stroke.

When we visited him this week, a day before he was discharged, he seemed stunned at what had transpired in the last few days. His sister, Aisha Gomes, who was at his bedside, said, "Timing was everything. His boss was incredible. There was so much panic at home when we got a call about his condition. During the Bandra to Jaslok commute, worst case scenarios played out in our heads." When Gomes saw him in the ICU, he was gesturing frantically at her. "I realized he was asking me about how his hair was looking! He is very particular about it," she laughed.

Keith with his sister Aisha (l), father Derrick and sister Shabnam
Keith with his sister Aisha (l), father Derrick and sister Shabnam 

Timing is everything
Keith was described as "a conscientious young lad who did not smoke or do drugs," by Jaslok's neurologist, Dr Fali Poncha. Healthy, a bit of a gym freak and keen on yoga, Keith isn't your typical stroke candidate. "As soon as Keith entered casualty, a Code Gold was announced. It's a recent initiative put into effect for any suspected acute stroke patient who comes in," he added. Driving home a lesson for others, Poncha said Keith was lucky that he was given specialist care within the golden time window, which is six to eight hours of the stroke. "Keith had a stroke of luck, but, unfortunately, not all patients are that lucky," the doctor said. FAST is a good acronym for recognising stroke, Poncha explained.

F: Face weakness
A: Arm weakness
S: Speech loss and
T: Time

Interventional neuro radiologist Dr Shaji Marar, also with Jaslok, said that a young stroke patient was. "relatively rare."

Doctors say there is no one cause for stroke. Sometimes, it could be the result of trauma to the neck or extremely strenuous exercise.

Keith's father, Derrick Gomes, said the lesson his son's health emergency has taught him is to ensure everyone in the family carries an identification. "Youngsters have a tendency to store everything on their phones. Keith's phone was locked when he was taken to hospital, so there was much panic about who to contact."

From here on
Keith is currently on blood thinners and has been advised a change in diet, avoiding too many leafy green veggies. "I have been advised to go back to work on Monday, but I wish to ask the doc when I can go back to the gym," he smiled.

His fitness routine alternates between cardio, power yoga and weight training. It is baffling since unfit lifestyle is usually identified as one of the causes of stroke among the young. The other is his age. A study by the Department of Neurology, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, in a systematic review of 15 population-based stroke incidence studies, says the rate of total stroke for those aged less than 45 years ranged from 0.1-0.3 per 1000 person years (see box). That's minuscule.

Keith sees the humour in tragedy, but his family knows it could have been worse. "He could have been driving or riding his bike when he got a stroke," his sister shuddered.

30 isn't very common
Dr Pradyumna Oak, consultant neurologist, Global Hospital, Mumbai, says, “Strokes are not very common in 30-year-olds. But smoking, drugs or use of tobacco can cause early stroke. There has been an increase in strokes among people in their early 40s. It’s a combination of lifestyle habits and ailments like stress, diabetes, hypertension and blood pressure that could lead to early stroke. We’ve seen an overall rise in the number of stroke patients in the last four years. Atherosclerosis, a disease of the arteries characterized by the deposition of fatty material on their inner walls, tends to be the common cause for stroke.”

Incidence in young
A 2010 study by the Department of Neurology, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, titled, Stroke in young: An Indian perspective dissects the phenomenon. The study says, age-specific incidence of stroke increases progressively with increasing age. In a systematic review of 15 population-based stroke incidence studies, the rate of total stroke for those aged less than 45 years ranged from 0.1-0.3 per 1000 person years, while for those aged 75-84 years, was 12-20 per 1000 person years. The impact of stroke on the individual family and society is strongest when it affects a young individual. The latest estimates of 2006 indicate that 52 per cent of India’s population is aged 15 to 49. Future studies may consider keeping 15-49 years (<50 years) as the age group for studies on stroke in the young.

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