Brother, will you help me? If you don’t this stroke might kill me.

This post was authored by Jason Penn and posted to The Eye Opener on May 12th, 2011.

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[Writer’s note:   It is my goal to write at least one blog entry each week.  The largest percentage of my time is spent looking for source material.  I want to provide the reader with timely and topical information.  In any given week I review dozens of research studies, medical advances, and cautionary tales.  Every once in a while I read an extraordinary piece that truly hits home.  So much so, I wonder whether or not I should write about it.  An element of vulnerability is revealed.  Maybe this can help someone…]

Mother’s Day is in the rearview mirror.  This past Mother’s Day someone told me a story about how their grandmother fell ill.  It was the holiday season, and as she climbed the ladder to decorate the tree, things took a tragic turn. She stumbled, lost her balance and fell.  She seemed “off.” A few short hours later, at the hospital, it was revealed that she had suffered a stroke.

I am college educated.  I have a law degree too.  I have been trained by some of the best and the brightest. Countless thousands of dollars have been spent on my education.  I am African American, and therefore at an increased risk of stroke. My profession has brought me very close to the medical profession and injured people.

As I listened to that story, I was stymied. Not only because of the shocking nature of the story, but because despite my education and experience I was not sure what I would have done. I am embarrassed to tell you that until a few minutes ago, I might not have acted quickly enough to save my friend’s grandmother. I would like to think that I wouldn’t take the situation lightly and that I would call 911 immediately.  But maybe not, because – simply put – I didn’t know the signs or symptoms of a stroke. Do you?  What would you do?

A recent study says that I am not alone:

Researchers interviewed 230 African Americans in the Washington DC metropolitan area and found that nearly 90 percent said that they would call 911 first if faced with a hypothetical stroke. However, when 100 acute stroke patients (or those who accompanied them to the hospital) were interviewed 75 percent said they called someone else first instead of 911 when they realized something was wrong.  Even more reported they waited a significant amount of time before seeking any medical attention.

Of course 230 people is a small sample set, but these numbers are certainly disturbing. The actual responses of persons confronted with seriously ill people suggest that maybe I wouldn’t act as diligently as I think.

According to the American Stroke Association, someone in the United States is having a stroke every 40 seconds.  It is the third-leading cause of death in the United States. In the United States, the rate of first strokes in African Americans is almost double that of whites, researchers say, because of higher incidences of risk factors such as high blood pressure and obesity. Also strokes tend to occur earlier in life for African Americans. Studies have also shown that fewer blacks than whites receive a treatment that breaks-up the blood clot in the brain causing the stroke, in part because blacks are not getting to the hospital in time.

So what should you do?  First, start by knowing the signs and symptoms of a stroke. According to the American Heart Association, the signs are:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden, severe headache with no known cause

What else?

  • Not all the warning signs occur in every stroke. Don’t ignore signs of stroke, even if they go away!
  • Check the time. When did the first warning sign or symptom start? You’ll be asked this important question later.
  • If you have one or more stroke symptoms that last more than a few minutes, don’t delay! Immediately call 9-1-1 or the emergency medical service (EMS) number so an ambulance (ideally with advanced life support) can quickly be sent for you.
  • If you’re with someone who may be having stroke symptoms, immediately call 9-1-1 or the EMS. Expect the person to protest — denial is common. Don’t take “no” for an answer. Insist on taking prompt action.

So what is the take-home lesson here?  When in doubt, call.  When I say call, I don’t mean to phone a friend.  This isn’t Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Uncle Stephen might know the answer to Meredith Viera’s question, but he probably can’t help you if I am having a stroke. Please. Please.Please. Pick up the phone.  Call 911. With appropriate intervention, a fully recovery is possible for some. A delayed response time, however, can be life altering.  Please, do not delay.  The life of your mother, brother, father, or spouse can depend on your reaction time.

It doesn’t say “leave a response” down below for nothing. Feel free to let us know YOUR thoughts.

Question: What would you do? Are you certain that you would call 911? Have you ever been faced with a life or death situation?


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