OKEECHOBEE – Strokes kill about 130,000 Americans each year. When it comes to successfully treating a stroke, time is critical, according to information shared at the May 11 meeting of the Okeechobee County Commission.
Knowing the signs of stroke and seeking help immediately are critical, especially for women,” said HCA Raulerson Hospital Emergency Management Director Kathleen Selby, who is also the hospital’s stroke coordinator. “Strokes kill more women than breast cancer.”
Strokes affect more women than men, she explained.
There are two kinds of stroke, Selby continued. The majority – 87% – are ischemic strokes. “Think of a pipe clogged with gunk,” she said. The ischemic stroke is a clog in one of the arteries in your brain. That clog stops blood flow to the brain. “We have a medication that breaks up that clot in your brain and restores the blood flow to your brain.”
That TPA (tissue plasminogen activator) medication only works if it is administered within 4.5 hours of the first symptoms, she added.
Hemorrhagic strokes, which make up about 13% of strokes, happen when a blood vessel in the brain pops, she said. This causes the blood to form a hematoma or clot in the brain. These patients need surgical intervention. With this type of stroke, early detection is critical to avoid permanent brain damage.
Selby credited Okeechobee County Fire Rescue for identifying stroke victims and getting them to the hospital for treatment.
She said in 2022, they had 393 stroke alerts in Okeechobee County. She said 91% of the times they gave the TPA, they were able to do within 60 minutes. “That time is 50% better than the national average,” Selby said.
“Raulerson does excellent job with stroke,” she said. “Fire Rescue working with us as our partner is a big reason we do so well.”
Selby said when it comes to stroke, it’s important to B-E F-A-S-T to identify the signs:
• Balance - People come into ER because they are off balance. They are not getting enough oxygen to the brain.
• Eyes - One eye may move differently or vision may be blurry.
• Face - Facial droop is a sign of stroke. Asking the patient to smile makes it easier to see the facial droop.
• Arms - Put arms out straight and hold them for 5 seconds - if an arm droops on one side, it is sign of a stroke.
• Speech - Speech may be garbled. The patient may struggle to get the words out, or say wrong words.
• Time - Call 911. Don’t wait for an uber. Don’t wait for a ride.
“Often when you are having a stroke, blood pressure is high. We need to get the blood pressure down before we can give the medication,” Selby said.
Stroke is the number one debilitating disease in the country, she added.
Women are more at risk than men, she said. “Women tend to downplay symptoms. Women are often taking care of other family members and tend to ignore it,” said Selby. Women have more debilitating strokes because they wait longer to seek treatment.
The commissioners passed a resolution recognizing May as National Stroke Awareness Month.
“National Stroke Awareness Month was proclaimed in 1989 by President George H. W. Bush. The Centers for Disease Control, the American Heart Association, World Stroke Campaign, and many others have participated in bringing education, research, and treatment on a global basis,” the proclamation states.
“When it comes to strokes, every second counts and rapid access to medical treatment often makes the difference between full recovery and permanent disability.
“Every person should educate themselves to become familiar with the signs of a stroke and act F.A.S.T. (face drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulty, time to call 911) to
be better prepared should you experience someone having a stroke.
“Research from the National Stroke Association finds that: strokes can happen to anyone at any age; 80% of all strokes are preventable; strokes are shown as the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S. and a leading cause of severe disability; on average, one person dies from stroke every 4 minutes. More than 795,000 people have a stroke each year in the U.S.; and strokes kill almost 130,000 of the 800,000 Americans who die of cardiovascular disease each year - that’s 1 out of every 19 deaths from all causes.
“Okeechobee County recognizes the impact of stroke awareness, education, access to services, and the well-being of a person’s overall health.”