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Kira Geiger suffered a stroke nearly six months ago. She’s learning to live with not knowing why. ‘Medical science is amazing but there’s so much we don’t know. I try to be optimistic, as much as I can.’    Larry Penkava/Randolph Hub

‘I’m 30. Of course I’m not having a stroke’

ASHEBORO — When you’re young, healthy and in love, you expect to live forever. So, suddenly speaking in gibberish is a reason to laugh.

That was the scene on Nov. 7, 2023, when Kira Geiger and Patrick Osteen were at home talking about the most recent RhinoLeap production of Crash Radio. 

“I was in the middle of the conversation when things went dark,” Geiger said recently. “I came to in the middle of a sentence. But it was total gibberish. I was thinking, ‘Why am I doing that?’ We were both laughing.”

But then Geiger noticed that she couldn’t move her arm or lift her fingers. And when she began speaking again, the left side of her mouth drooped.

Osteen told her that if she was playing a joke, it wasn’t funny. Finally, he asked, “Are you having a stroke right now?” 

Geiger replied, “Of course I’m not having a stroke right now.”

However, she said, “All the red flags were going off and my eyes were streaming tears. Patrick’s father (Tom Osteen) is a doctor and I said, ‘Call your dad. I have to go to the hospital.’

“My body was spiraling with panic,” she said. “I knew something was deeply wrong.”

Geiger and Patrick checked in at the Randolph Health Emergency Room and he told the front desk what her problem was. They were in the waiting room when Tom and Christine Osteen arrived.

By all appearances at that time, Geiger was just another healthy 30-year-old. “My brain was finding new pathways” to perform body commands, she said. “Tom gave me an aspirin,” which helps to prevent blood clots.

She underwent tests that didn’t show any clots. She responded negatively when asked if she had a history of migraines. With no indications of a stroke, Geiger said, the hospital could have sent her home. But instead, she was kept overnight to undergo an MRI the next morning.

During that time, she was texting her two sisters, both of whom are medical doctors. And, she said, her “body was trying to compensate. We were waiting for the neurologist, who said, ‘You had a stroke.’

“I was shocked,” Geiger said. “It was scary. There’s no way this is real. I started crying. This was a really big deal.”

The next step was to find out why. “I’m 30, not diabetic and I don’t smoke,” she was thinking. “Everything (related to strokes) is not my situation. They made sure there was no hole in my heart and then I was transferred to Novant Health in Winston-Salem.”

Geiger found it ironic that one of her ambulance attendants said, “I had a stroke at 20 and was in rehab for six months.” They swapped stories during the ride to Winston-Salem.

At Novant, Geiger tested negative for everything and was soon able to go home. But there have been “a lot of doctor appointments, making sure everything was going to plan,” she said. She was on a heart monitor and they were looking for “anything that could be the cause.”

When she talked about her experience on June 7, it was six months since her stroke, “past the chance of having another.”

But there was a scare on New Year’s Eve when Geiger was with her family in the State of Washington. She began having dizziness, blurred vision and high blood pressure. She went to the hospital but an MRI showed nothing.

“We still don’t know what caused that,” Geiger said. “Was it a panic attack? I don’t know since I never had a panic attack.

“There are multiple mysteries,” she said. Meanwhile, she takes a baby aspirin daily, she’s back exercising and will have long-term heart monitoring.

“It’s a bizarre thing to not know why,” she said. “It can feel isolating, not knowing why,” since most other stroke victims can link their attack to a cause.

“Medical science is amazing but there’s so much we don’t know,” Geiger said. “I try to be optimistic, as much as I can. Some days, I kind of forget this is my life now. I’ve always had the privilege of good health. Now, I’m on medicines and carry emergency aspirin everywhere.

“This has infiltrated a lot of my life, but I’m so lucky I don’t have any deficits,” which plague other stroke victims.

Growing up in Redmond, Washington, Geiger said, she had “always wanted to be an actor.” After applying to a number of programs around the country, she entered the UNC School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, graduating in 2015. Then she moved to New York and, for a decade, acted and produced her own work.

She met Patrick Osteen, artistic director for RhinoLeap, just after graduation when RhinoLeap held a workshop about a new musical. Later, Geiger said, “I saw that RhinoLeap was doing ‘Pride and Prejudice.’ I auditioned and got the part. I came here last spring.”

She was planning to go back to New York after the production when “Patrick and I fell in love. After the show, we told each other.

“RhinoLeap was losing a member and he asked me to work with the company,” Geiger said. “I ended up here.”

Since her stroke, Geiger has had sessions with speech, physical and occupational therapists. Doctors have given her the go-ahead to exercise, though she has chosen not to train for that half-marathon.

“The first few months I got tired easily and had a hard time remembering names,” she said. “Grieving good health is a form of grieving. It’s challenging.”

But Geiger gives no appearance of ill health, always smiling, even considering a comic standup routine on her stroke experience. 

“I’m learning to dial back to rest my brain,” she said. “It’s (her brain) doing things I’m not aware of.

“I think I’ve made my peace with not knowing.”


Dr. Sowmya “Dr. Lak” Lakshminarayanan, Novant Health physician leader for Neurosciences Institute in Winston-Salem, answered questions about Geiger’s stroke:

Can you explain what kind of stroke Kira had? Cryptogenic stroke, which means exact cause not identified thus far, despite exhaustive testing conducted. This warrants long term close monitoring.

Is it unusual for someone so young to have a stroke? Well, stroke can happen at any age. 

Usually, with aging, we develop many medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and those are vascular risk factors that play a major role in causing atherosclerosis (fatty) plaque leading to stroke. However, those risk factors are not typically present with stroke in young patients. In addition to searching for routine causes, the stroke in the young warrants several additional testing to evaluate for unusual pathologies that include genetic testing.

What should people do for their health to prevent stroke? 

Focusing on adopting healthy lifestyle choices — eating food less in fat, oil, salt, sugar, exercising regularly, NO smoking, NO using recreational drugs, adequate control of blood pressure and cholesterol levels, keeping the diabetes in check, maintaining ideal body weight, etc. 

What are common signs of stroke people should be aware of — any sudden symptoms affecting one side of the body, face, or vision. 

Commonly use acronym BE FAST:

B: Balance — Sudden loss of balance, dizziness or trouble walking. 

E: Eyes — Sudden blurred or double vision, or loss of vision in one or both eyes.

F: Face — One side of the face drooping or numb, or an uneven smile. 

A: Arm — One arm weak or numb, or hanging down and unable to be held up straight. 

S: Speech — Slurred or garbled speech, or difficulty speaking. 

T: Time — Call 9-1-1 immediately.


7 things to know about how stroke is different for women

•Women have more risk from high blood pressure.

•Pregnancy complications can pose a lifelong risk.

•Stroke can look different in women.

•There are ethnic and racial comparisons.

•What happens after a stroke?

•There are ways women can protect themselves.

•'There's a lot that we don't know.'


For more information on strokes, visit  www.stroke.org.