Time is crucial if you’re having a stroke
photo by: LMH Health/Contributed Image
On February 7, 2017, the day after her son’s birthday, Jennifer Anderson went to work just like every other day. Unaware of what was going on with her body, Anderson was taken to the hospital. It was ruled out that she was having a stroke because of how young she was — she was only 50. Due to a hole in her heart that caused a blood clot in her brain, she was in fact having a massive stroke.
A stroke is a sudden interruption in the blood supply of the brain. It is the fourth most common cause of death and the leading cause of serious, long-term disability in America.
Anderson’s stroke heavily affected the right side of her body. It left her unable to talk or walk. She spent seven weeks at Research Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., before she was transported to LMH Health to be back in her own town.
Anderson remembers leaving the hospital and being let down and upset that she was unable to drive.
“I was very independent,” Anderson said. “I was used to not having to rely on anyone because I was able to do everything myself. I was very self-sufficient, but after the stroke, I had to rely on my husband and two sons a lot more.”
How to Recognize a Stroke — Just remember, BE FAST:
Balance — Loss of balance (headache or dizziness)
Eyes — Blurred vision
Face — One side of the face is drooping
Arms — Arm or leg weakness
Speech — Speech difficulty
Time — Time to call for ambulance immediately
It has been just more than two years since her stroke, and Anderson’s condition improves day by day. She is now able to walk, talk, drive and much more. She is still recovering from aphasia, a language disorder that affects a person’s ability to communicate.
“I know what I want to say, but it doesn’t always come out quickly or accurately,” Anderson said.
Anderson was right-handed and since the stroke has had to learn to write with her left. She said it is a struggle at times, but she slowly gets better. Anderson journals her progress and likes to look back and see how far she has come.
“It has been a long journey,” she said. “At one point I was unable to dress myself, cook or shower without assistance. Now, I am doing just fine. I am able to do all those things alone, only needing a little help from time to time.”
When Anderson was transferred, she came to the acute rehabilitation unit at LMH Health. She has since been working with the speech, physical and occupational therapy teams.
“I don’t know what I would be like today without good care,” Anderson said. “I have great therapists at LMH Health. They work wonders for me.”
Jana Wallen, clinical value and excellence outcome coordinator, said LMH Health has been recognized for its outstanding stroke care.
“We are a Gold Plus hospital from the American Heart Association,” Wallen said. “This means that we have exceeded our stroke metrics for quality monitoring in all that we do to care for stroke patients.”
May is stroke awareness month, and LMH Health wants to inform the community about all things regarding stroke.
It is important to recognize warning signs of a stroke and what to do if you experience them. Stroke warning signs include sudden numbness or weakness of your face, arm or leg, especially on one side of your body; sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding; sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes; sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination; and sudden severe headache with no known cause.
The sooner symptoms are recognized, the sooner a stroke can be identified and can be counteracted. Time lost is brain lost. If determined it is a stroke early on, doctors can administer a lifesaving clot-busting drug, tPA, which stands for tissue plasminogen activator. This is the gold standard treatment for ischemic strokes, which occur as a result of an obstruction within a blood vessel supplying blood to the brain.
Dr. Sanjeev Kumar, a neurologist with Lawrence Neurology Specialists, said there is a 4 1/2-hour window of time from onset of symptoms to when a patient can receive the tPA without a high risk of bleeding in the brain.
It is important to call 911 if you recognize stroke symptoms and think you may be having a stroke. When an ambulance is called to take you to the emergency department, the emergency responders are able to warn the hospital ahead of time that you are coming. This shortened time and extra level of care can be needed when dealing with something as time-sensitive as a stroke. The immediate treatment you receive by calling an ambulance can potentially help prevent further injury from occurring.
“There’s increased survival and decreased disability,” Kumar said.
Having regular medical checkups can help you learn about your risk factors and change your habits to lower chances of having a stroke. Some factors to manage to prevent stroke are blood pressure, cholesterol, food habits, exercise, sleep, alcohol consumption, tobacco use, stress and weight.
“With a good lifestyle and exercise, your risk of stroke is low. If you have a stroke, it is most likely your recovery is better, your disability will be less and you will be discharged from the hospital quicker,” Kumar said.
Stroke Support Group
Another way you can learn about stroke is by attending the LMH Health stroke support group. This group, led by Jocelyn Rietcheck, LMH Health occupational therapist, and Trena Triplett, LMH Health speech pathologist, is open for all to come, listen and learn.
“We have people of all ages and absolutely anyone is welcome,” Triplett said. “Whether you are wanting to learn more about stroke awareness/risk factors, are a caretaker for someone who has had a stroke or are a survivor of stroke yourself, you are welcome at this group.”
The stroke support group has been active for more than 20 years, and though there are some who have come for many years, newcomers are always welcome.
“The group is so welcoming of new people,” Rietcheck said.
Both Rietcheck and Triplett arrange to have guest speakers for the Stroke Support Group. They take the advice of the group members based on interests in various topics related to stroke prevention and improving quality of life. Even though Rietcheck and Triplett lead the group, it really is the active members who set the pace.
“We are there to answer questions and help, but really the members keep the group talking for the hour, sometimes hour and a half that we are together,” Triplett said.
They both said the group provides a fun and informational setting and that it is a place where the members want to be.
“We have had people tell us that they learned more about stroke education and prevention here than from any other single source,” Rietcheck said. “It is so good to hear that we are offering a program where people come from surrounding counties because we give them helpful information.”
The group is free to the public and no registration is required. It takes place from 4-5 p.m. on the third Tuesday of every month in conference room D-South on the lower level of the hospital.
— Jessica Brewer is an intern in the Marketing and Communications Department at LMH Health, which is a major sponsor of the Lawrence Journal-World’s Health section.