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Stroke Awareness

What Do You Tell People about Stroke?

By Jean Riva



How often have you heard it said that having a stroke is like getting struck by lightening? Lightening is the universal symbol of strokes, they say, because strokes happen so fast and unexpectedly. We in the stroke community know that the being-struck-by-lightening analogy works perfectly for describing how a stroke affects our lives after the onset of a stroke. An event we thought could never happen to us did happen. It destroyed our previously comfortable and often complacent lives in much the same way that a forest fire destroys acres upon acres of land after a single lightening strike ignites a single tree.

The fire engulfs us and when it burned itself out, it forces us to rebuild and redefine our lives. As Stroke Network members we have read many inspiring stories on the message board and in Strokenet Newsletter of survivors who are in the process of rebuilding their lives. It's hard---the hardest thing most of us will ever do---but we are able to rebuild from the ashes left behind by our own personalized lightening strikes.

However, the lightening strike analogy should be used carefully when we're talking to the general population. Why? ---Because fatal lightening strikes occur in the USA less than a hundred times a year with an additional five-hundred lightening-caused injuries. Compare that to a stroke occurring in the USA every forty-five seconds. That's approximately 700,000 new or recurring strokes per year with 163,000 of those strokes ending with a fatality. Telling people that having a stroke is like being struck by lightening---without expanding on that statement---makes it seem rarer than it really is. "Oh, well," many people think, "That will never happen to me." The message often falls on deaf ears.

Strokes in the United States, as in most countries in the world, are the third leading cause of death falling under heart and cancer related fatalities. One in every fifteen deaths is from a stroke. These are the facts. These are the things the general public needs to hear from us. Having a stroke is not a rare occurrence. Strokes are as common as summer sunshine. It's important that we get this message out so that our families and friends will pay more attention to and learn the warning signs of a stroke. Raising public awareness is also an important step in getting more public money committed to research and better treatments in order to bring these devastating statistics down.

My hope in writing this essay is to encourage people in our stroke community to get the following message across when they are talking publicly about strokes: Getting struck by lightening is rare, having a stroke is not. It's the third leading cause of death. For those people who don't die from the initial stroke, their strokes will turn theirs and their families lives upside down as fast and unexpectedly as a lightening strike in a dry forest. Tell everyone who will listen to learn the symptoms of a stroke and to get to an emergency room as quickly as possible if they or a loved one experiences any of these signs. Tell them not to play with fire!



Footnote: Lightening statistics are from National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration and the stroke statistics are from the American Stroke Association.


Jean is Message Board Administrator for The Stroke Network.

Copyright October 2005

The Stroke Network, Inc.

P.O. Box 492 Abingdon, Maryland 21009

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