You know those moments, events, and happenings where we remember exactly where we were, what we were doing, and who we were with? Usually they’re either a really happy moment in our life, or a really unexpected and shocking moment in our life.
For me, that moment happened in 2006. I remember coming back from the restroom and having a voicemail. I was (and still am) really bad about checking my voicemails right away but something told me to check that one. The voice that I heard was a shook up, upset, voice-cracking fiance. My fiance. We were getting married that year in June. Just four months away from the day that I took this phone call we would say our vows.
The voicemail was straight to the point: "Amanda. It’s Cale. My Mom had a stroke. I’m heading to Wellington. I love you. Bye."
I immediately called back and luckily caught him before he left. He was out of it, as expected. He said he didn’t know anything other than that she was at the Wellington hospital. I said I’d meet him down there.
Since that January in 2006, my mother-in-law has had several mini strokes and three major strokes. The most recent was just two years ago which left her unable to walk, total hemiplegia of the right side of her body, and severe aphasia. If she is in pain somewhere on her body, she knows she is in pain, but her brain tells her it’s somewhere else (so for instance … her hip may hurt, but her brain is telling her it’s her chest). So she will tell us that she is having chest pain, when she is actually having hip discomfort. It’s very hard to distinguish what she is trying to say and what she wants.
I saw her most recent brain MRI scan and I was in complete shock. Almost the entire left side of her brain was a black smudge. Like somebody had taken a black magic marker and colored it in. It took away memories that she had (past and present). She barely remembers what she had for a snack five minutes earlier but can sometimes find the memory of when she was a little girl and the things she did back then. My mother-in-law is with us … but some days, she is not.
I could go on and on and point fingers and say certain people didn’t take the right steps when it was obvious that she was having a stroke. But I can’t do that and I won’t do that. It doesn’t do any good.
The only thing I can do is try to help YOU from saving somebody else.
Stroke is the #1 cause of long-term disability, yet few understand stroke or its prevention. No matter what you may believe, stroke can and does happen to anyone—young or old, fit or couch potato, rich or poor.
F.A.S.T. is an easy way to remember the sudden signs of stroke. When you can spot the signs, you'll know that you need to call 9-1-1 for help right away…
F: Face Drooping – Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person's smile uneven?
A: Arm Weakness – Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S: Speech Difficulty – Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like "The sky is blue." Is the sentence repeated correctly?
T: Time to call 9-1-1 – If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get the person to the hospital immediately. Check the time so you'll know when the first symptoms appeared.
Tips for Preventing Stroke
Eat a healthy diet.
Be sure to include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Eating foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol and high in fiber can help prevent high blood cholesterol. Limiting sodium in your diet also can lower your blood pressure. For more information, visit CDC's Salt Web site.
Maintain a healthy weight.
Being overweight or obese can increase your risk for stroke. To determine whether your weight is in a healthy range, doctors often calculate a number called the body mass index (BMI). If you know your weight and height, you can calculate your BMI at CDC's Assessing Your Weight Web site.
Be physically active.
Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower cholesterol and blood pressure. The Surgeon General recommends that adults engage in moderate intensity exercise for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week. Visit CDC's Physical Activity Web site for more information on being active.
Cigarette smoking greatly increases your risk for stroke. If you don't smoke, don't start. If you do smoke, quitting will lower your risk of having a stroke. Your doctor can suggest ways to help you quit. CDC's Office on Smoking and Health Web site has information on quitting smoking.
Limit alcohol use.
Avoid drinking too much alcohol, which causes high blood pressure. For women, that means no more than one drink per day; for men, no more than two drinks per day. For more information, visit CDC's Alcohol and Public Health Web site.
Some medical conditions can put you at a higher risk for stroke. Preventing or treating these medical conditions can help lower your risk.
My mother-in-law fits into that last tip. She suffers from a disease called AntiCardioLipid Syndrome. It’s a disease in which her blood is already extremely thin. Therefore, when she has a stroke, she can NOT be given the clot buster medicine that most patients are given when they are having a stroke to help thin their blood. And unfortunately, my husband has been confirmed that he too may have this same disease as well as my children. It’s extremely scary but all we can do is continue to try to keep them living a healthy and active lifestyle.
Raising awareness knows no boundaries. Even the smallest efforts matter.
If you have risk factors for stroke, there are steps you can take to lower your risk. Be aware, and take that first step today!