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Health Team

Stroke Survivor Message Is to Avoid the Predictable Perils

Posted April 26, 2007

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— A stroke can happen to anyone, but certain risk factors increase your risk. Ask former CBS personality Mark McEwen.

McEwen, a weather and entertainment anchor with the CBS Early Show until 2002, suffered a major stroke in November 2005. He was about to fly on a business trip when he had his first symptoms. They were symptoms of a mini-stroke, but he says his doctors misdiagnosed it.

"They thought I had the flu,” McEwen said. “I had a stroke and they sent me home.”

“If they had said the word ‘stroke,’ at all, I wouldn't have flown. But they didn't, so when I flew again to Florida, back home, then I had what they call a massive stroke. Nine out of 10 people who had what I had die. I'm the 10th one."

McEwen spent all of 2006 in rehabilitation.

"When I first came out, I couldn't walk, could barely talk. I was in a wheelchair, then a walker. I couldn't drive. I had a chair in the shower,” McEwen said. Now, though, “All that's gone."

If you've had one stroke, you're at much higher risk for another, so McEwen changed his lifestyle. He exercises regularly and is losing weight.

“I avoid salt. I avoid sugar, avoid fried foods. A stroke can happen to anyone, but you can minimize the risk factors," McEwen said.

Those controllable risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, being overweight and leading an inactive lifestyle and having a heart condition called atrial fibrillation.

Some risk factors cannot be controlled, like a family history of stroke. African Americans are twice as likely to die from stroke as Caucasians.

McEwen is now promoting a stroke study called Second Chances to follow the progress and setbacks of stroke survivors.

"A stroke is like dropping a pebble into a lake, that ripple effect, the caregivers, the family, the job, the friends. The ripples go out, and we're going to find out what survivors do, what life is like after having a stroke," McEwen said.

Diane Mulligan-Fairfield with the National Stroke Association says an acronym called "FAST" may help people quickly recognize stroke symptoms. FAST stands for Face, Arms, Speech and Time.

"Face" is, ask someone to smile and see if one half droops.

"Arm" is, ask for someone to hold both arms out and see if one side goes down, which can indicate paralysis on one side of the body.

"Speech" is, ask someone to repeat a simple sentence like, 'The sky is blue.' See if it comes out garbled or slurred.

"Time" is getting to the hospital. "And right now," Mulligan-Fairfield said, "it's very important to know where stroke centers in your area are because you may get really good stroke care if you're at a stroke center."

If you reach a stroke center within three hours of the first symptoms, you will be evaluated and you may receive an injection of a drug called tissue plasminogen activator — tPA — to dissolve the clot in your brain. If administered soon enough, tPA increases your chances of survival and restoring normal functioning of your mind and body.

McEwen is traveling around the country to promote the study, and he's planning a book that he calls "A Change in the Weather" about his stroke experience.

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  • plmbgold Apr 28, 2007

    I had a stroke in March of 1995. I was 37 at the time. I had the "WORST" headache in my life and all of the classic symptoms. Because I was so "young" they didn't catch the stroke. Five days later, I went to see my physician. He immediately sent me to a neurologist in Raleigh who sent me to UNC. There they diagnosed it as a brain tumor and I was having regular CT Scans and MRIs to watch the progress of the "tumor". I had brain surgery about 4 1/2 weeks after the strokes inception. Two weeks later I was told it wasn't a brain tumor but they had no idea what had happened. I had every test in the books including a botched spinal tap at UNC. In October I went back to my physician. I was told then it was a stroke. I began extensive PT, OT and ST. It was a living nightmare. I came out ok because I was determined to. I had a 3 year old and 5 year old at the time of the stroke. My handwritting is still a mess, but that's ok, because that is the only visible sign I ever had it.

  • THE ETERNAL Apr 27, 2007

    I HAD A STROKE IN FEBRUARY 2002. I CAME HOME IN A WHEELCHAIR AND WAS OUT OF WORK FOR 5 MONTHS.ALTHOUGH THE DOCTOR INDICATED THAT I PROBABLY WOULD NOT GET MUCH BETTER,I BEGAN TO WALK A LITTLE EVERY DAY AND DID SOME OUTPATIENT PHYSICAL THERAPY.WHEN I WAS ABLE TO WALK ABOUT 1 MILE PER DAY FOR A MONTH, I WENT BACK TO WORK AT MY OLD JOB FULL TIME. SINCE THAT TIME, I HAVE NOT MISSED A DAY OF WORK DUE TO ILLNESS. I WOULD SAY LEARN FROM THE BLESSING OF ALL YOUR SICKNESS, IGNORE YOUR DOCTOR, AND KEEP A POSITIVE ATTITUDE.AFTER ALL, WE ARE SPIRITUAL BEINGS HAVING A PHYSICAL EXPERIENCE. LET US ENJOY ALL OF LIFE.

  • katgoesloco Apr 27, 2007

    My mother is a health care professional and she did not realize that she was having a stroke. She did not seek care for days. By that time her sight was permanently damaged.

    Be aware of the signs of stroke in yourself and those around you. The person having the stroke won't be thinking clearly. They may not recognize what is happening. My mother had dizziness, blurred vision, and a bad headache. She thought she had a virus or something.

    She's doing well now, but her sight is permanently damaged.

  • twybird587 Apr 27, 2007

    I started having problems in September of last year. The first sign was I lost the hearing in my right ear. It took the doctors 6 months to realize that it was because I had had a mini stroke. By the time they found the 2 blood clots in my brain I had had several mini strokes. At the time I did not know that my symtoms were from the mini strokes but I know what to look for now. The symtoms I had were alot like veritgo and that is what the doctors thought I had until I started loosing my balance and just falling down, I did not have any short term memory at all. I could not talk as good as I normally did and when someone would say something to me I would look at them and it would take me several minutes to understand what they had just told me. My memory was so bad I thought that I had the beginning stages of deminta. It took time but I have recovered almost completely, my hearing is slowly returning in my right ear.

  • glockedup Apr 26, 2007

    What a lot of people may not know is there is another treatment for stroke called the Merci Retrieval System by Concentric Medical(http://www.concentric-medical.com/Home.html). Simply, it's a catheter that a doctor positions next to the clot and deploys a cork screw looking wire into the clot and pulls it out of the blood vessel. Where TPA has to be administered within 3 hrs, it's 12 hrs for the Merci system. Only 2 hospitals in the area provide the treatment: Duke and UNC Hospitals. So make sure your family knows where to take you if they think you are showing stroke symptoms. Time=Brain. PS: I have no affiliation with this company. A nurse on a plane told me about it.