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.

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