Thursday, May 29, 2008

In the future, stroke survivors might thank snakes

Stories about snake venom treating stroke victims have appeared from time to time, so it's high time to link to one for Stroke Awareness Month.

This one is from the Tallahassee Democrat. A particular study, in which the Tallahassee Memorial Hospital's Stroke Center is taking part, focuses on the use of Malayan pit viper venom. According to the article, the venom might work up to six hours after a stroke; a drug derived from the venom "is believed to have anti-coagulation and anti-clotting effects, which may improve blood flow to the brain."

The worldwide study started in 2005, and it bears watching.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Another hole-in-the-heart survivor

Another story about the closing of a patent foramen ovale - a hole between the two upper heart chambers - for a stroke survivor, increasing the chances that it won't happen again.

Green River Heart Institute of Owensboro, Ky., posted this story the other day. Interesting read for fellow survivors.

"I praise the Lord that He sent me to Dr. Mathew," the article quotes the survivor. Dr. Roshan Mathew was the cardiologist who sealed the hole via catheterization.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Strokes and the presidency

As the presidential campaign continues to heat up and Stroke Awareness Month is winding down, I ran across an interesting article, citing almost a quarter of U.S. presidents have suffered strokes, during of after their time in office.

A link to the article: Newswise Medical News Stroke Expert: 10 of the Nation's 43 Presidents Have Suffered Strokes.

"Woodrow Wilson was so incapacitated by a series of strokes that his wife, Edith, became the virtual acting president," says the article. "Franklin Roosevelt died of a massive stroke on April 12, 1945, leaving the presidency to an unprepared Harry Truman just as World War II was ending."

More recently, former President Ford, now deceased began slurring speech during a 2000 interview.

A stroke doesn't distinguish between a president or a pauper or anyone in between -- so keep aware of stroke symptoms.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Can a needle save the life of a stroke victim? Not this kind

A strange, weird and funny myth came up on my Google alert about stroke news.

From the urban legend department from Can a Needle Save the Life of a Stroke Victim?

Surprise answer (at least as the needle is described in the story): No.

A doctor used a needle to use tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) that helped save my life. Different needle, different location.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Stroke awareness: for the not-so-old

Another article, from the Norwich Bulletin in Norwich, Conn., brings attention to stroke awareness, even among the not-so-old. A good reminder for Stroke Awareness Month.

The article talks about a topic we've brought up here, that of New England Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi and his stroke in February 2005. Bruschi was all of 31 when it happened.

The article's author, Anthony G. Alessi, MD, a neurologist, discusses how while a stroke - which he defines as "a condition resulting from a lack of blood supply to an area of the brain" - is typically associated with elderly patients, it's not exclusively for the elderly.

Bruschi's stroke, like mine, was caused by a hole between the upper chambers of his heart known as a patent foramen ovale.

"This condition allowed free passage of a small clot from the right side of his heart to his brain, resulting in stroke," wrote Alessi. "Placing a patch over the hole through a catheter sealed the hole. Unfortunately, he was left with weakness on his left side and vision loss."

My own hole-in-the-heart was patched in June 2007. You can see a video of the patch here.

With dedication and therapy, Bruschi returned to the NFL on Oct. 15, 2005.

Recently, Alessi wrote, at this year’s American Academy of Neurology meeting, Bruschi received the Public Leadership Award for his work in the field of stroke awareness.

"Bruschi’s story shows us that the combination of modern medical care, a strong will and hard work can overcome the obstacle of a stroke — even to the point of returning to the highest level of sports," the neurologist wrote.

While most stroke survivors won't play for the NFL (before or after), fellow survivors can take heart, so to speak.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Q&A article on blood-thinning medication

A good article titled "Warfarin (Coumadin) diet: What can I eat?" from the Mayo Clinic's Web site goes through the basic information on how one's diet could influence the level of blood-thinning properties of warfarin.

"Warfarin is used to prevent blood clots from forming or growing larger in your blood and blood vessels," according to the MedLinePlus, an online resource from the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health. It's commonly prescribed to prevent strokes.

I was on warfarin - also the main ingredient for some rat poisons - for a few years, and it's important to get your blood tested periodically as your doctor directs. Blood too thin, and you could bruise or bleed too easily. Not thin enough, and the medication isn't doing all it can do for preventing strokes.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Another Stroke Awareness Month resource

One more resource for Stroke Awareness Month, this one from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It's a Web page dedicated to the month with several resources and links of helpful material.

Friday, May 16, 2008

NINDS Know Stroke home page

Another great resource for Stroke Awareness Month (or any time) is the NINDS Know Stroke home page from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, part of the National Institutes of Health.

According to the Web site, "in 1999, the NINDS began developing the Know Stroke campaign to help educate the public about the symptoms of stroke and the importance of getting to the hospital quickly. The campaign includes outreach to consumers and health care professionals using mass media, grassroots outreach, partnerships and community education."

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Internet Stroke Center at Washington University

Yesterday's post mentioned the Internet Stroke Center at Washington University in St. Louis. It's also connected with Barnes-Jewish Hospital, which is next door to the university's medical school.

The Internet Stroke Center offers resources for patients and families, including basics on recognizing stroke symptoms, caring for stroke survivors and reducing stroke risk. There's a link to the latest stroke news. It's a good Web site to note during Stroke Awareness Month.

One of the more disappointed stories, from MedWire News, starts this way: "Only a fifth of people who suffer a stroke recognize the event as an emergency and go urgently to hospital, research reveals." That means, of course, four out of five people who suffer a stroke do not recognize the event as an emergency and go urgently to a hospital. We need to do better. Much better.

Here are the symptoms:
  • Sudden numbness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause
Even if you suspect that's going on - to you or someone else - get to some help fast. As stated before, a false alarm is better than a funeral.

Being several days out of my effort to post to this blog almost every day and keep it active, I've found it gets easier every day and discovered some fascinating people and additional resources. And on that note, thanks be to God.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Aspirin can help

For Stroke Awareness Month, you might want to consider this easy and cheap preventive measure: taking a baby aspirin.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch quoted Dr. Abdul Nassief, an assistant professor at Washington University and director of the clinical stroke center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, that an 81-mg aspirin, every other day, reduces stroke risk. He cautioned against taking it, though, if your blood pressure is more than 140/90.

"It's a winner," Nassief told the newspaper. "And for women over 40, a baby aspirin every other day reduces the risk of stroke by 25 percent." And it doesn't matter if it's coated or uncoated, although the coated aspirin might cause less upset.

Not being a doctor myself, I'd always check with my doctor to see if there's any other reason not to take the aspirin, especially if you're already taking a prescription medication.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Risk assessment tool

Washington University's Siteman Cancer Center offers a tool to assess your risk for a stroke, so for Stroke Awareness Month, this is a good time to take the test.

Go through a short questionnaire (no fibbing!), and you'll get easy to understand results about your own risk.

This is from the Spring 2008 edition of Innovate, a magazine from Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University Physicians.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Another survivor's story

The inspiring story posted on the Nashville Tennessean's Web site is a good read for Stroke Awareness Month.

The writer suffered a massive stroke in 1994 - at age 36 - ending his ability to speak and left him "for all intents and purposes, a quadriplegic."

He could have called it quits, but instead founded The Stroke Network, designed to provide "support and information to stroke survivors, caregivers, family members and anyone whose life has been affected by stroke." There's also a link to the StrokeNet Blog and talks about, among other developments, how the founder "developed a close and loving relationship with God."

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Anniversary and awareness

Stroke Awareness Month stories will come and go, with phrases to help you recognize stroke symptoms. We should all pay attention.

But any month, any day, any time, the bottom line: If things don’t seem right, don’t hesitate. If speech is slurred, get some help. If someone’s face becomes off kilter, call 9-1-1. If a limb gets weak or numb, stop what you’re doing and get to an Emergency Room. Vision blurred or sudden confusion? Don’t take a chance. Quick onset of a severe headache? Don’t take two aspirin and call the doctor in the morning. Get to the doctor now.

I was certainly blessed to receive help 10 years ago today, May 8, 1998, when my stroke occurred. Details are here.

My personal – and apparently final – resolution came last summer. In April, I had a mini-stroke, what doctors call a transient ischemic attack. A trip to the emergency room – hey, I learned my lesson - led me to some Columbia, Mo., specialists. A test involving a camera dropped down my throat to get an echo image of my heart confirmed what I was told 10 years ago, that the apparent cause was a misshapen wall and a hole between the two upper chambers of my heart.

With the combination of those heart defects, blood comes in on the vein side laden with clots and other debris - as normal - and instead of being pumped through the lungs and get filtered, sometimes debris collected along the wall, then shunted through the hole and pumped out, unfiltered, into the arterial system, a stroke waiting to happen.

Last June, a doctor in St. Louis snaked a tube through an artery and placed a quarter-size patch, made of nickel-titanium, over the hole. Six months later, my risk of a stroke became no more than the rest of the population in general. To celebrate my 10 years, I plan to run 10 miles, as usual, on Saturday morning.

Many stroke survivors do not have such an outcome, I know. But more awareness and faster treatment can save or improve a life. Perhaps even yours.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Stroke Awareness and Recovery blog

My Google alert for news and blogs found a Web site devoted to "Sharing ideas on caring and independence for stroke survivors and their families." The site, Stroke Awareness and Recovery, has a good entry about Stroke Awareness Month.

Lots of good resources from another blogger who is a stroke survivor.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Stroke Awareness Month

Those three little words: Towrith. Rice. Torithe.

Or at least, that’s how my wife wrote them down 10 years ago, on May 8, 1998. Those were my three attempts to say the name of a city I’d visited often: “Jonesboro.”

That was the day that stroke awareness became personal.

A colleague and I, newspaper reporters, were digging through boxes of documents at a semi-hostile government office in Arkansas. Almost straight up noon, a tiny blood clot became lodged in an artery on the left side of my brain, toward the front. The results were profound: I could not speak or make a sound. My right arm and leg were useless and limp. A strange, dazed feeling came over me. The rest of the day became a series of blurred images – an ambulance ride, doctors and nurses, needles and tubes.

Death, a doctor and friend told me later, came close.

And slowly, jumbled speech and the use of my arm and leg returned. My wife asked me to repeat the name of a city where I’d been a few weeks earlier. Jonesboro is in east Arkansas, rice country, so with short-circuited wiring in my brain, the city name made me think of rice. The words she scribbled on a scratch pad are at a spot in my office where I can see them daily.

May is Stroke Awareness Month, and if nothing else, my personal account can bust a couple of stroke myths. Do they always happen to elderly people? No – I wasn’t even 40. Are you at risk only you smoke, or if you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol? Wrong. As a non-smoker and a longtime distance runner, my numbers were excellent.

That’s why it’s so important to recognize stroke symptoms and act quickly – a stroke can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime. Somewhere in American a stroke happens on the average of every 40 seconds, according to the American Stroke Association. Every three of four minutes, a stroke kills someone.

Major organizations – the American Stroke Association and National Stroke Association are two big ones – have acronyms and catchphrases to help you remember and recognize the signs of a stroke. For the former, you’re supposed to “Give Me 5.” It offers a quick stroke check using five short words: Walk, Talk, Reach, See, Feel, as in:

  • Walk – Is his balance off?
  • Talk – Is her speech slurred or face droopy?
  • Reach - Is one side weak or numb?
  • See - Is his vision all or partly lost?
  • Feel - Is her headache severe?

The latter calls its campaign “Act F.A.S.T.,” standing for:

  • F = FACE – Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
  • A = ARM – Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • S = SPEECH – Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Does the speech sound slurred or strange?
  • T = TIME –If you observe any of these signs, it’s time to call 9-1-1.

The last item is the most important. Because my colleague was alert, help came fast enough. Help came fast enough, so the doctors and nurses could bust the clot with a medication called tissue plasminogen activator, or tPA. The sooner after the stroke develops, the more effective the treatment. Most strokes are caused by a blood clot, but about 20 percent of the time, it’s caused by a ruptured blood vessel. Those cases are even more likely to be fatal.

So just don’t wait. Don’t wait for the symptoms to subside. Don’t wait until you are certain. Don’t wait until you can get someone to drive you to your doctor’s office. Get to the Emergency Room now. Preferably, call 9-1-1.

A false alarm is far better than a funeral.