Stroke prevention seminar breaks records, saves lives

DOWNEY - John Neal was scared. "Two friends at work had strokes just a week apart, and I wondered if I would be next," he said. "So I took Wednesday morning off to attend the Stroke Prevention Seminar so that I could find out more about my risks for stroke."

Then John's name was called, and the Downey resident would be the next person to receive a free carotid artery screening at the seminar, which was sponsored by the RTH Stroke Foundation, Rancho Los Amigos Foundation, The Downey Patriot and Rio Hondo Event Center. John took a deep breath and stepped to the screening station. A medical technician used an ultrasound device to check one side of his neck and then the other, searching for plaque buildup in John's carotid artery that could mean he would be at-risk for a life-threatening stroke.

"You are look great!" the medical tech said.

In just seconds, John's tension evaporated and a huge smile broke out across his face. "I feel like a giant weight was lifted from my shoulders," he said. "I can finally relax."

John was one of more than 300 individuals from the community to receive free carotid artery screenings at the Stroke Prevention Seminar, which was three times as many attendees as any seminar RTH Stroke Foundation had previously conducted in Los Angeles and Orange Counties.

But not everyone at Wednesday's seminar was as lucky as John.

"We found one person who had a more than 80 percent blockage of their carotid," said RTH Stroke Foundation President Deborah Massaglia. "Because this was immediately life-threatening, our screenings truly saved a life today."

At the doctor's office, these screenings would have cost a total of more than $150,000. But on this day, the RTH Stroke Foundation provided the screenings for free and Mark Shelton of the Rio Hondo Event Center provided the ballroom, audio visual services and refreshments at no charge. Before the screenings began, Deborah took the attendees through a fascinating 45-minute journey through the warning signs of stroke and stroke prevention strategies.

The statistics of stroke are scary. "Every year, nearly 800,000 Americans experience stroke," Deborah said. "More than a half-million of these cases are new, and one-third of them occur with people who are under the age of 65."

"Stroke has become the leading cause of adult disability in the U.S. and the fourth leading cause of death in our nation," she said. And yet, among adults age 50 and over, a recent study showed that 97% could not identify a single stroke symptom, and only 1% could name stroke as a leading cause of death.

Now for the good news. "We know that stroke is one of the most preventable of all life-threatening disease, with more than 80% percent of all strokes being preventable," Deborah said. She has dedicated her life to the mission of educating people about how to prevent strokes. "Our goal is to educate through seminars, because we know that stroke prevention is a key element in reducing the number of strokes in this country," she said.

One of the most memorable moments in the presentation came when Deborah introduced the concept of using the acronym F.A.S.T. to identify when someone is having a stroke and how to take immediate action.

"The 'F' is for face drooping," she said. "Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile.

"The 'A' is for arm weakness. Is one arm weak or numb?" Deborah asked. "Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?" "The 'S' is for speech difficulty," she said. "Is speech slurred, are they unable to speak, or are they hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, such as 'the sky is blue.' Is the sentence repeated correctly?"

"The 'T' is for time to call 9-1-1," she said. "If the person shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and immediately get them to a hospital that is a certified stroke center. In the local area, these would include PIH in Whittier and Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, as well as Kaiser Downey Medical Center." Deborah said it is absolutely imperative that you get someone experiencing a stroke to a stroke center as soon as possible.

"After you call 9-1-1, check the time, so you'll know when the stroke symptoms first appeared," she said. If you can get to a stroke center within three hours after the stroke began, they can administer a clot-busting drug called tPA (tissue plasminogen activator) that can dramatically improve the chances of getting better."

Time is of the essence. "Someone experiencing a stroke needs to get treatment within three hours for the best outcome, but sooner is better, because time is brain," Deborah said. "Every minute you go without treatment after a stroke, you are losing neurons and potentially losing additional brain function."

She emphasized that many people experience TIAs, or transient ischemic attacks. "These are often referred to as a "warning stroke" or a "mini stroke" that has stroke-like symptoms," she said. "TIA symptoms usually last only a few minutes, but if the TIA is not treated, people who have TIAs have a very high risk of stroke. If you recognize and treat TIAs right away, it can reduce the risk of a major stroke. But the fact is that less than 5% of patients receive tPA because they don't get to a stroke center within the three-hour window of effectiveness."

Deborah also taught attendees five additional sudden symptoms of a stroke, including: *Sudden numbness or weakness of the leg *Sudden confusion or trouble 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 Downey resident Geraldine Fletcher was one of the many attendees who learned a lot from the presentation. "This was the most meaningful and informative session I could have possibly attended," she said. "I'm very thankful to The Downey Patriot for putting information about this seminar in the paper, because this was something I really needed. Thanks a million to all the sponsors of the event!"

Wednesday's event was the first in a series of five Stroke Prevention Seminars that the sponsors will conduct at the Rio Hondo Event Center this year. The next free Stroke Prevention Seminar is scheduled for Wednesday, May 22 from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. The seminar will feature world-renowned Rancho neurologist and researcher Amy Towfighi, MD speaking about "Healthy Eating and Lifestyle to Prevent a Stroke." Free Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm screenings, which can cost upwards of $300 in a doctor's office, will also be available to all attendees.

"We encourage anyone who is interested to make an early reservation for the May 22 event, because we are sure that just like today's seminar, it will be a total sellout," Deborah said. Reservations may be made by calling the RTH Stroke Foundation toll-free at (888) 794-9466.

Deborah was touched by the response to Wednesday's seminar. "It was simply amazing," she said. "In 16 years of doing stroke prevention seminars, I've never had so many people comment that they were truly grateful to learn about how to prevent a stroke. I am very excited to see what happens at our next seminar on May 22."

Geraldine can hardly wait to learn more. "I'm looking forward to coming to the next session," she said. "Next time I'm going to bring others with me because learning how to improve our health is so important."

********** Published: February 28, 2013 - Volume 11 - Issue 46