Northwest Arkansas family proves stroke can happen at any age


"It has definitely made us stop and celebrate the time that we have together."

BENTONVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) —  The risk of a stroke typically increases as people get older. But one Northwest Arkansas family proves it can happen at any age.

“I was a 15-year-old, healthy boy,” said Ryley Williams. “There was nothing wrong with me at the moment.”

What started as a normal day in July 2013 changed 21-year-old Williams’ life forever. 

“He was at football practice and collapsed during a warm up,” said Williams’ mom, Terri Rose. “He was rushed to the hospital. As soon as he came in, I could see the side of his face was completely drooping. And I initially thought, ‘That looks like a stroke.’ But I thought, ‘No, he’s 15. It has to be something else.”

He was airlifted from Bentonville to Little Rock where the family got the devastating news. 

“Immediately, they took him in for an MRI,” Rose said. “It was at that point they discovered he had had five strokes.”

Rose said there were no signs this would happen.

“He had an undetected bacterial infection in his bloodstream and it had caused algae like strands to collect on his heart valves,” Rose said. “So when he was at practice, they broke loose and threw five clots up to his brain.”

The prognosis wasn’t good.

“They pretty much gave us the worst case scenario,” Rose said. “He’s never going to walk again, he’s never going to be independently mobile, he may not possibly be able to eat.”

However, Williams was a fighter.

“When we got onto the rehab floor, Ryley just started pushing,” Rose said. “And pushing and pushing. He took his first few steps with the help of a mobile walker. Everything they said he wasn’t going to be able to do, he started doing.”

Despite the progress, life after the stroke hasn’t been easy.

“My life has flipped upside down,” Williams said. “I had to learn everything, like the necessities of life. And I’m still learning.”

“it’s been difficult,” Rose said. “It’s been a process to go through watching Ryley go through all the emotions and grief of the loss of his life before the strokes because his life is so incredibly different from what he had planned.”

Even after years of therapy, it was too risky for Williams to get back on the football field. But it’s a sport he still loves.

“I’m just a hometown boy,” Williams said. “I just root for the Razorbacks.”

“As far as the change in our family, I would say that it has definitely made us stop and celebrate the time that we have together,” Rose said.

Rose said her son is living a normal life despite his disabilities. He started driving about a year ago, he has a part time job and had a girlfriend.

She wants to stress to families that this can happen at any age. If you suspect someone may be going through a stroke, remember F.A.S.T.

That stands for:

  • Face: Look for a facial droop on one side
  • Arm: Look for arm weakness. Ask the patient to hold their arms out in front of them. If one is falling it could be a sign of a stroke. 
  • Slurred speech: If they’re slurring their words, that means it’s
  • Time: Time to get them to the hospital because in these situations, seconds count. 

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