By Alexandra Becker
Looking back, 11-year-old Byron Mathews will always have a heroic story to tell. Even more, he will grow up knowing that in times of crisis, his bravery will far outweigh fear. After all, just this past February he saved his own father’s life.
The Mathews family had recently relocated from Tucson to Houston, and Byron’s mother, Heather, was already gone for the day, working at her new job in Sugar Land. Byron’s father, Beau, was getting ready to take a shower when, suddenly, he fell down. Byron rushed to his side right before his father started having a seizure.
“I was worried he would bump into the dresser and knock our TV down on top of him, so I was trying to get him away from that,” Byron said.
Without hesitating, Byron called 9-1-1. When the operator asked for his address, he realized he didn’t yet know it by heart, so he ran out to the mailbox so that he could give the ambulance as much information as possible. He also couldn’t recall the name of his mother’s new company, but he remembered that just the day before, she had brought home a mask with its logo emblazoned across it. With those key details, the first responders were able to quickly transport Beau to Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital.
They were also able to contact Heather to deliver the news: her husband was having a stroke.
In the ambulance, it became clear that Beau’s condition was worsening. However, because of Byron’s quick actions, Beau was still within the timeframe to receive tissue plasminogen activator, known as tPA, which works to dissolve blood clots and restore blood flow to the brain after a stroke.
“The most important thing anyone can do if they observe stroke-like symptoms is call 9-1-1 and get medical help immediately,” said Dr. Hamid Hamdi, MD, a clinical assistant professor in the Vivian L. Smith Department of Neurosurgery at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth and a neurologist at UTHealth Neurosciences Sugar Land and Memorial Hermann Sugar Land. “Because Mr. Mathews was brought in quickly, he was able to receive the tPA protocol, which very likely prevented any further, more serious damage.”
Beau had suffered a thromboembolism in his left temporal lobe, which means a blood clot had become dislodged from somewhere in his vasculature and traveled up to his brain, where it created a blockage. If left untreated for too long, this type of stroke can be fatal.
Heather was in disbelief. How could her 41-year-old, otherwise healthy husband, have just suffered a life-threatening stroke?
“He had mildly high blood pressure, but that was it,” Heather said.
One other possible explanation: COVID-19.
After their move, both Heather and Beau had contracted the disease. Although both had relatively mild cases, anecdotal evidence suggests a correlation between COVID-19 and strokes in healthy, young individuals.
“We often cannot identify an exact cause for a stroke, but I wouldn’t rule out this possibility, especially considering that his other risk factors were relatively low,” Hamdi said. “While there is still so much we don’t know about long-term side effects from COVID-19, we are seeing some younger stroke patients who were previously infected, and so studies are underway to investigate a possible causal relationship.”
What is for certain, however, is that Byron was a hero that day.
“He was so quiet and calm,” Beau recalled. “I couldn’t really speak but I could see what was happening, and he just did what needed to be done that day.”
“We were so lucky that Byron was home with him and recognized what was going on and knew to call 9-1-1,” Heather added. “If he hadn’t, we probably would have lost him.”
Beau stayed at Memorial Hermann Sugar Land for one week as he recovered from his stroke. He then moved to an inpatient rehabilitation center, and over the course of several months, completed outpatient occupational and physical therapy. Now, he is focused on his speech therapy—and spending as much time as possible with his wife and son.
“We’re just so grateful for every day we get together,” Heather said.
This Father’s Day will be especially meaningful for the Mathews family, and they have decided to mark the occasion with one of Beau’s favorite pastimes: barbecuing.
“Beau is the cook in our family, so we got him a new smoker and we plan to put it to good use on Sunday,” Heather said. “Our perspective has completely shifted after this, and we don’t need to do anything big—we’re just happy to be together.”