May is American Stroke Month

Tuesday, 06 May 2008

May is American Stroke Month, and the NVFC’s Heart-Healthy Firefighter Program has partnered with the American Stroke Association (ASA) to educate first responders about the risk factors and warning signs of stroke. Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States, and many survivors are left with permanent disabilities. According to the ASA, a stroke occurs every 40 seconds. Cardiovascular disease, which includes stroke and heart attacks, is the number one cause of line-of-duty firefighter deaths. You can help lower your chance of a fatal or debilitating stroke by knowing the warning signs and adopting a healthy lifestyle.

The Give Me 5 for Stroke campaign of the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, the American Academy of Neurology, and the American College of Emergency Physicians highlights the five key signs that someone is suffering from a stroke. If you or someone you know experiences any of the following symptoms, call 911 and go to the emergency room immediately, even if the symptoms seem to go away. Signs to watch for include:

  • Walk – is their balance off?
  • Talk – is their speech slurred or face droopy?
  • Reach – is one side weak or numb?
  • See – is their vision all or partly lost?
  • Feel – is their headache severe?

The ASA reports that stroke kills two million brain cells per minute, which leaves survivors with physical and emotional disabilities. However, stroke is highly treatable in the first three hours. Volunteer firefighter Erik Oppermann of Charles City, VA, knows the importance of recognizing the signs of a stroke and receiving treatment as soon as possible. He was a smoker and had high cholesterol, but he was only 38 and had never struggled with his weight; he worked out regularly and had low blood pressure. So when he began feeling dizzy and having spotty vision while on a call, he thought he had just inhaled too much smoke. He got home, collapsed on his front porch, and spent his 39th birthday in the hospital after suffering an embolic stroke.

“This taught me a lesson that being young doesn’t mean you aren’t at risk for stroke and heart disease,” Oppermann said. “I’m encouraging everyone in my department, no matter how young or how old, to get regular check ups and adopt a healthy lifestyle. And if you think you might be having a stroke or heart attack, get to the hospital as soon as you can.”

Because he received early treatment, the damage to Opperman’s body was not as severe as it could have been. He lost use of his left side, but with the help of rehabilitation he is slowly regaining its use and will continue being a volunteer first responder, which he has done for almost two decades.

Find out more about American Stroke Month and stroke at Learn more about heart-health and maintaining a healthy lifestyle on the Heart-Healthy Firefighter Program web site.



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