By Lori Manning
The COVID-19 pandemic has created anxiety for many of us, including stroke survivors like myself who may be at risk for serious complications if infected by the coronavirus. As a survivor and volunteer for the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association, I am alarmed to hear that many people are fearful of calling 911 and getting to the hospital when experiencing a heart attack or stroke. Emerging data from the American Heart Association shows an alarming reduction in the number of heart attacks and strokes being reported.
In 2002 I experienced a stroke. My stroke was caused by a clot that kept blood from reaching a part of my brain, depriving brain cells of oxygen and nutrients and causing damage in the process. It affected the left side of my brain, which controls the ability to speak and understand language. I was left with aphasia, a language problem that affects one’s ability to read, write, listen, deal with numbers and understand speech or written notes. Hence, my life would never be the same again.
Getting medical care early during a heart attack or a stroke can mean the difference between a positive outcome and long-term complications. In my case, the stroke was diagnosed too late for me to benefit from medication that can break up the clot and restore blood flow to my brain. (The clot-busting drug usually has to be given within three hours.) Had I gone in earlier, my recovery may not have been the long uphill battle with many lessons to learn. Unfortunately, my stroke was not diagnosed for 24 hours and coupled with a seizure, my recovery was very challenging. I needed speech therapy and had to learn to read and write again.
I want to remind everyone that a stroke or a heart attack is always urgent. These are medical emergencies and if you suspect a stroke, it is imperative that you call 911 without being afraid. Emergency workers know what to do and the hospital is the best place if there is a life-threatening condition, even if we are in a pandemic.
Here is an easy way to remember the most common signs of stroke: just think F.A.S.T. F=face drooping; A=arm weakness; S=speech difficulty; and T=time to call 911. Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes, sudden trouble walking or loss of balance, and a sudden severe headache with no known cause may also be symptoms of a stroke.
A person may be having a heart attack if experiencing chest discomfort such as uncomfortable pressure or pain; pain or discomfort in the arms, back neck, jaw or stomach; shortness of breath; and possibly breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness. Some women are more likely to experience shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.
Heart disease and stroke are leading causes of death in Washington state, but both are largely preventable. I encourage you can learn more about prevention and warning signs from the American Heart Association’s website, heart.org.
Lori Manning lives in Tacoma and volunteers for the American Heart Association. She is a wife, mother and student, currently completing a degree in Human Services. Lori had a career in the mortgage industry but the stroke recovery forced her to quit. Now she hopes to find a new career doing something that she is passionate about, by sharing her story to provide awareness and healing to those who are willing to make different life choices.