Knowing the Signs of a Stroke – FAST

In the United States, nearly 800,000 people a year will suffer a stroke. About 690,000 of these strokes occur when a clot cuts off blood flow to a part of the brain. Stroke is the No. 5 cause of death in the country, killing about 130,000 people  in the U.S. each year.

However, education, fast-working drugs and surgical treatments are combining to reduce those numbers. The American Stroke Association has a simple but sure way to determine if someone is experiencing a stroke.

It’s called F.A.S.T. and it’s 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 and get help.

F.A.S.T. is:

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.

Medical professionals stress the importance of recognizing the signs of a stroke in order to get proper treatment as quickly as possible. Time is extremely valuable in treating and often reversing the results of a stroke. According to the ASA, clot busting drugs and clot-removal procedures must be administered within a few hours of stroke symptoms to lessen the chance of being disabled after a stroke.

In addition to drugs, there is an endovascular treatment that involves a surgical technique that can physically remove a large blood clot from a blocked artery in the brain.

West Virginia Sen. Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, founder of the Ryan Ferns Health Plex in Benwood, knows firsthand the importance of recognizing the signs of a stroke, and getting the proper treatment as quickly as possible. He was at his facility when a client, Erikka Storch, suffered a stroke after working out. He rushed to her side and quickly assessed the situation. His training and educational background kicked in as he recognized that Storch, president of the Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce, was indeed having a stroke. Ferns has known Storch since their days together in the West Virginia Legislature. Storch, a Republican, also is a current Delegate representing the Third District in West Virginia.

Ferns has a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from Wheeling Jesuit University. He spent the first part of his career working in nursing homes and hospitals in Pennsylvania. He saw many types of strokes and knew the warning signs.

“When I went in the restroom, Erikka was laying on the floor and she was crying. I noticed the right side of her face was drooping and her right leg was just kind of hanging out to her side. She couldn’t move her leg when I asked her and I noticed that all the time I was holding her hand, she was not gripping it back. She had the textbook symptoms of a stroke,” Ferns said.

Storch was in fact suffering a stroke due to a blood clot in her brain. Ferns said he had asked her several simple questions, but Storch could not answer because she couldn’t form the words to speak. Ferns said he immediately had his staff call for an ambulance and stayed by her side on the way to Wheeling Hospital and throughout her treatment. In the emergency room, he gave doctors an assessment of the situation which helped them in their decision of treatment.

“I didn’t know Erikka until we became delegates in the Legislature, but we knew each other’s families. I consider her like family now … our paths were meant to cross,” Ferns said.

After initial treatment at Wheeling Hospital, Storch was flown to UPMC in Pittsburgh where surgical treatment quickly restored her speech and physical well-being. Within fours hours of the onset of the stroke, Storch had regained most all of her bodily functions thanks to the quick action of Ferns, the ambulance crew, Wheeling Hospital physicians and UPMC personnel. She spent three days in the hospital.

At 45 years of age, Storch doesn’t understand why she had a stroke. She had none of the usual risk factors. She is now enrolled in a medical study being conducted by UPMC which requires regular bloodwork and trips to Pittsburgh.

“They are very serious about this. They even sent someone down here just to take my blood,” Storch said. “It’s very frustrating not knowing why this happened to me. I have a husband and three kids … I want to be around for them. So I’m excited to see what the study shows.”

Storch said her experience may help others to become more aware of the signs of a stroke and to pay attention to stroke prevention protocols.

“I encourage everyone to be aware of the symptoms. Literally I had no clue I had had a stroke. I just didn’t think it was possible,” Storch said.

Ferns said Storch did not have the usual risk factors for stroke. He said she was active and watched her eating habits.

“Our program is focused on nutrition and exercise. It’s a mystery why Erikka had a stroke. She’s not back to her routine yet, but she has been back here to talk with her group. We’re on round two of the program and she’s still part of the group.”

As chairman of the Senate Health Committee in Charleston, Ferns has been working to bring about better stroke awareness education. He said there is a marketing campaign to change the word “stroke” to “brain attack” to let people know the urgency of getting help for a stroke victim as much as there is for someone suffering a heart attack.

“Calling it a brain attack rather than stroke has a better sense of urgency and lets people know to seek help right away when they determine someone is having a stroke,” Ferns added.

Both Wheeling Hospital and Ohio Valley Medical Center are medical facilities that have received recognition for achievement in designated American Heart Association/American Stroke Association health care quality improvement programs. Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh also has been touted for its treatment of stroke patients.


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