Empowering women to reduce their stroke risk

The following is a copy of a speech by Stephanie Falatko, DO, PPG – Neurosurgery, who was the keynote speaker at this year’s Fort Wayne Go Red for Women Luncheon. 

Heidi is a 35-year-old wife and mother. Heidi was pulling weeds in her yard on a Sunday afternoon, when she developed a funny feeling in her face and inability to speak normally – as though someone had just given her a shot of Novocaine at the dentist. She rested a few minutes and resumed working. A few minutes later the same thing recurred.

Jessica, a 55-year-old mother of two was at work. Her co-workers last saw her acting like her usual chipper self around lunch. But just two hours later, she was found on the ground, unable to speak or move the right side of her body.

Both women were brought to a nearby ER. Despite the seemingly mild changes Heidi experienced versus Jessica’s critical appearance – both underwent advanced imaging with CT scanning, which looks at the blood flow to the brain and the blood vessels. 

In both women, blood clots were found in a major brain vessel. 

Stroke, she is a quiet thief. 

She may, or may not warn you. 

She steals so much of what, we, particularly as women value:

  • Our independence
  • Our roles as caregivers and providers
  • Our gift of Innovation
  • Our ability to volunteer
  • Our tendencies to lead
  • Our drive to be a do-er
  • The joy of being the party planner, hostess, entertainer
  • Our time playing tickle monster
  • Our superhero status

Stroke is the No. 1 cause of disability in the U.S and the fifth leading cause of death.  As women, we have a higher lifetime risk of stroke and are more likely to die from a stroke than men.

My job is to intercept the process once it has already started. But each one of you, in your own lives are the ones that prevent, enforce and prolong life. By your daily choices, your leadership and your lifestyle – you directly impact the No. 1 cause of disability.

Stroke is not a disease of the elderly. We are seeing more and more young people with stroke.   This is largely due to unknown and uncontrolled risk factors. 

What then can we do as women, friends, moms and daughters? 

First, we can arm ourselves with awareness. You can’t know what you don’t check. How can you change your diet, modify your cholesterol, sodium intake, etc., if you don’t know your numbers? It’s important to check and know your cholesterol, sugar, blood pressure, etc.  

Second, we can combat the epidemic of inactivity. How can we expect our kids to exercise if we don’t model what an “active” life looks like? How can we expect our children to learn what the best choices are, if we don’t practice them ourselves? Obesity is more prevalent in kids and teens today, which increases their lifetime risk of stroke as they develop risk factors at a younger age. If your pump is strong, your brain will be also.

It’s also important that we don’t live in fear, we live in knowledge. Loss of vision – in one eye or both – weakness in the face, arm or leg, and speech changes are warning signs. It is not normal for your arm, your leg, your face to not work, even for 30 seconds. These episodes could represent a mini stroke, which puts you at increased risk for a major stroke event.

And finally, we can advocate. If you suspect something isn’t right, get evaluated. We cannot help you if you stay at home, or try to sleep it off. The cost of delayed evaluation may mean you are no longer a candidate for treatment that could save your life or prevent/lessen long term disability.

Know the hospitals in your area and their capabilities and the treatments they offer. Not all centers are the same. In 2015, the world changed with regards to stroke care. Stroke became a surgical emergency. In 2018, we learned that we can help stroke patients with surgery for up to 24 hours after symptoms start, which was nearly 4 times longer than previous. The timeframe to act has expanded, but the brain does not live longer without oxygen

In the cases of Heidi and Jessica, both women underwent emergency surgery, which restored blood flow to the brain. We are trying to educate the community, inspire change, and encourage informed, health-conscious choices so that lives are changed before the special women in our lives are taken from us.

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