August 22, 2002
Rankin county resident offers advice, encouragement to help stroke victims recover
By Collin Johnson
Health and Research News Service
BRANDON, Miss.—Al Page enjoys living too much to let his stroke slow him down. And it hurts him too much to see fellow stroke victims not living up to their potential.
Page, 63, often visits stroke patients at Methodist Rehabilitation Center where he was treated for a stroke. When he speaks to patients, he’s on a mission to dispel myths about disabilities and limitations.
In 1994, the Brandon resident was working on his prized fruit trees outside the Fannin Mart restaurant he’s owned for the past 35 years. “I remember seeing a little bolt of lightning and then everything got fuzzy,” he recalled. Page was treated in an emergency room, hospitalized and then transferred to Methodist Rehab to begin his recovery.
Page isn’t alone. Stroke is the third leading cause of death and the leading cause of serious, long-term disability in the state, said Dr. Rahul Vohra, medical director at Methodist Rehab. Heredity, poor diets and unhealthy habits combine to put southerners at increased risk for stroke.
A stroke is caused by a sudden decrease in blood flow to the brain. When blood doesn’t reach the brain, cells are deprived of oxygen and die causing any functions normally controlled by the damaged part of the brain to become impaired.
Page lost much of the function in the left side of his body. Therapists worked with him to help him recover as much function as possible and to learn ways to compensate for his newfound disability. During his rehab, Page says a certain stubbornness helped him stay focused on his recovery. “I would lay awake at night thinking about ways to get things done. I would connive and plot about how I was going to overcome my next obstacle.”
That persistence carried over after his discharge. “There isn’t anything you can’t do if you make up your mind to do it. So I decided I was going back to work,” he said.
Before long, Page was using his expertise to sell fruit trees and tomato plants to the lawn and garden customers at the Flowood Wal-Mart.
When Methodist Rehab nurse Ruth Grey was thinking of ways to motivate stroke patients at the hospital, she immediately thought of Page who jumped at the chance to help others.
About once a month, he visits stroke patients and encourages them to push themselves. “You’ve got to challenge yourself or you won’t go forward,” he says.
But, his message isn’t just about physical limitations, Page explained. It’s also about education. “You’ve got to be self-motivated to understand as much about stroke as possible. Stroke patients should ask as many questions and learn as much about taking care of themselves as they can and they should do it before they leave the hospital.”
Recovery in patients can be seen up to 18 months after a stroke, said Dr. Vohra. “It’s tough and challenging to recover from a stroke. That’s one reason why it’s so important to do everything you can to live a healthy life and pay attention to warning signs.”
Patients who are evaluated within three hours of the onset of symptoms may be candidates for treatment with tissue plasminogen activator (t-PA), a clot-busting drug which opens the clots that cause stroke.
Risk factors for stroke include:
- High blood pressure
- High fat diets
- Cigarette smoking
- Previous stroke
- Heart disease
- Carotid artery disease
Heavy drinking of alcohol especially "binge drinking" has also been associated with stroke. African Americans have approximately a 60 percent higher risk of stroke than whites and men have a greater risk of stroke than women. A person's stroke risk doubles each decade after age 55.
Stroke warning signs include:
- Weakness or numbness on one side of the body
- Sudden imbalance
- Sudden difficulty speaking or understanding speech
- Sudden difficulty seeing in one eye
- Sudden and severe headache that is unusual for the patient
“Some strokes are preceded by transient ischemic attacks (TIAs),” said Dr. Vohra. “TIAs occur when there is a temporary interruption of blood to the brain. The symptoms of TIAs are the same as those for stroke, but they go away within minutes. Anyone experiencing a TIA should seek medical treatment immediately in an emergency room.
“For those who do have a stroke, it’s vital to get to the emergency room as soon as possible. You should think of a stroke like you do a heart attack—every second counts,” Dr. Vohra added. “Successful rehabilitation depends partly on how early we can see the patient and also on the skill level of the rehab team. Methodist Rehab has the state’s only comprehensive stroke rehabilitation program which is important because we can coordinate a patient’s care through several different disciplines.”
Page also says its important for family members to learn as much as possible to help their loved ones through the illness.
“God has blessed him to be able to come and give encouragement like this,” said Edna Leonard of Louisiana. She and her husband attended a recent meeting to lend support to a friend in the hospital. “It’s wonderful that he’s doing this.”
Page said he plans to continue counseling new patients as long as he is able to. “I just wish someone who had been through this had been around to encourage me when I was going through it,” he said. “So I’m more than happy to help anyone I can.”