Critical Illness – You Think It Won’t Happen To You

Critical Illness – You Think It Won’t Happen To You

My wife, Kristy, and I get the same reactions almost every time we share the story of how she had a stroke at the age of 22. 

“No way!” 

“Are you serious?” 

“Really?! What happened?”  

We then either provide a short, elevator-pitch recap, a more in-depth version, or the hour-long story of our experience, depending on the audience. 

It was a Friday in September, at the end of the day. I received a call from Kristy, and she was saying something was wrong with her, but she was hard to understand. I told her the phone was breaking up and to call me from her office phone. The next call I received was from her new boss, who said I should get there right away or he was going to call an ambulance.

I got to her office as quickly as I could. At that point, she was unable to speak any words, make any audible sounds, write, text, type or communicate in any way short of giving a thumbs up that she could understand everything I was saying to her. 

We went straight to the ER where an MRI revealed she had just suffered a massive stroke, and more testing would be required to determine the cause. In complete shock, we didn’t hear much of what was said after that. Later, a CT scan revealed her left carotid artery had completely dissected – cause unknown – and a piece of the clot that had formed traveled up to her brain, resulting in the stroke. 

That night, the neurologist braced us for what to expect moving forward. She said that due to the severity of the stroke, it was likely that my wife’s communication impairments would last months, years or even permanently. 

She was 22 years old, and we had been married for three months. We had just bought our first home, started new jobs and adopted a puppy – all within those first three months. There was absolutely no indication of this looming catastrophe. She didn’t smoke, drink or have a family history of stroke. She is a relatively healthy woman with absolutely no probability of a stroke ever, let alone in her early 20s. Even her cardiologist said in the 30-plus years he’s been practicing, she was only his second case of a major artery spontaneous dissection. He did say strokes in younger people are more common than you think, but for other reasons. 

Overwhelmed could not even begin to describe how we were feeling. There was a conflicting sense of grief surrounding us. Realizing the gravity of the situation, we rejoiced in her survival but at the same time mourned for what we stood to lose. Kristy says she had a sudden moment of clarity and thought, “No! This will not be my life!” She became intensely determined to recover. 

Did you know it really is possible to break a mental sweat? I can tell you from witnessing it firsthand – my wife physically struggled, without even moving, to restore the connections between her brain, mouth and hand. First there were small sounds, then barely legible handwriting and short, stuttered sentences. Longer conversations, with a little less struggle to form her words, and elementary handwriting came after that. 

By God’s miraculous healing, she was released more than a week later. And had you not known what happened, you never would have been able to tell the difference. She was practically back to normal. 

How does this tie into life insurance and/or critical illness coverage? Well, I was fortunate enough to start my career at a small GA office in Fort Wayne. We specialized in health and life coverage. My boss suggested we get insured since we were married and had a house. We were looking at 10-year term with accelerated underwriting. We completed applications, and I brought them home to have them signed … 

They sat on our table at home for two weeks, and that’s when the stroke happened. 

I thought, “Are you kidding me?! Why didn’t we sign them? Why didn’t we make this a priority? Why wouldn’t a young couple think life insurance is important?”

Now we know. Kristy might not have been so lucky. She could have died without having any coverage. We immediately applied after that, and I received Preferred Plus rates within three days of underwriting (well within the two weeks our applications just sat at home and could have been processed). Kristy was postponed for one year, and then she received a Standard Nonsmoker rate with a flat extra of $7.50 per thousand for the next three years. At least we were able to get coverage, but I had to reduce her coverage to one-fifth of the original amount to keep the premiums within our budget. 

While we were aware of the need for life insurance, we were not aware that something traumatic could happen to us at our age. We were not aware of critical illness coverage at the time, and probably would have overlooked it even if we did. Having stayed in the insurance industry and being fortunate to work at firms with voluntary benefits, we have since added critical illness coverage on myself, while my wife has to reach her 10-year anniversary of her stroke before they will consider. If these benefits were ever to go away, you can be sure we will be buying an individual critical illness policy for both of us. 

There are so many lessons we have learned from this experience. First and foremost, never take life and loved ones for granted – everything can disappear in an instant. Second, laughter is an incredibly powerful, potent remedy (ask me about her nickname “stroke brain”). Third, no one is invincible, no matter how healthy you think you are. Fourth, always sign the life insurance paperwork as soon as you get it. Lastly, consider all the insurance products that are available (life, critical illness, disability, long-term care) and think of the consequences of NOT having coverage.  You really cannot be over-insured in a world of uncertainty. 

Another response we get when telling this story is, “Wow, I know someone else who was only 20-something years old and had a stroke, too!” You will probably find that everyone knows someone with a similar story. 

Put it in Practice

Please feel free to share this story with your family, friends, agents and clients to raise awareness of how important life and critical illness insurance products are – not only to purchase, but to purchase before it’s too late (or too expensive). 


Michael Burns is an internal wholesaler who manages three territories across the country, managing and cultivating relationships to increase sales opportunities for advisors and their practices. He’s been in the insurance industry for more than seven years, working with two other local BGAs before joining Ash Brokerage. He recently obtained his life and health license and is working on his Series 6 and 63 designations.