Recognizing Signs of Stroke

By Lauren Wanko

“It can happen to anyone. You got to take care of yourself,” said stroke survivor Harry Copeland.

Four years ago, Harry had a stroke from a brain aneurysm. Ever since he’s been working to regain his strength at Meridian Rehabilitation. He remembers losing almost all his senses in seconds.

“I felt something in my head pop. I couldn’t see, I couldn’t hear, I couldn’t talk,” he said.

His wife immediately called 911.

“I was gonna die, that’s what I thought,” he said.

“Essentially a stroke is a sudden onset of a neurologic deficit a loss of neurologic function. There are two main types — one where there is a blockage of an artery in the brain and one where there is bleeding from an artery in a brain,” said Dr. Ron Benitez.

Because the blood flow is blocked or interrupted, brain cells die due to lack of oxygen. Jersey Shore University Medical Center Neurosurgeon Benitez says some risk factors include smoking, hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol and family history. Harry used to smoke and work overtime as a store manager.

“That had a lot to do with it,” he said.

Nationwide someone has a stroke every 40 seconds. It’s the number five cause of death in the United States, according to the American Stroke Association. Statewide, the New Jersey Department of Health indicates stroke is the number three leading cause of death with over 3,000 deaths annually.

“There are multiple factors that go into why patients might have a stroke so it really requires a very comprehensive plan to try to reduce these numbers long-term,” Dr. Benitez said.

The American Stroke Association indicates only 8 percent of those surveyed were able to identify each letter in FAST an acronym of the most common stroke warning signs. F for face drooping, A for arm weakness, S for speech difficulty, T for time to call 911.

“They may have some element of those symptoms for the rest of their life, especially nowadays where there are treatments for some of these large serious strokes it’s that much more important to go get in early, get to hospital early,” Dr. Benitez said.

“I still don’t have all my senses. It comes and goes,” Harry said.

“What I tell patients, even the worst stroke victims — they will get better with time, problem is we don’t know if they’re gonna get 10 percent better, 20 percent better or 90 percent better. That’s the unknown in equation in a lot of cases,” Dr. Benitez said.

After a hospital stay, stroke patients begin rehab.

“In rehab we don’t fix what happened to you necessarily, but we help give your life back,” said Brian Walch.

“If I didn’t have rehab I’d be somewhere slouched over,” Harry said.

Harry’s determined to stay healthy and doesn’t see an end to his rehab.