World Stroke Day event to take place in Tampa next Wednesday

On the day after Labor Day this year, Tampa Verizon employee Victor Diaz was part of a training conducted by officials with the American Stroke Association Tampa Bay, where he learned about the warning signs to detect if a friend or family member may be suffering from a stroke. 

That following Sunday he was talking to his father in New York City via a video connection. His mother happened to walk by in the background. When she began addressing him face to face, he noticed her breathing heavily and showing a painful grimace. He began talking to her, where after he prodded her to talk about her condition, she said she was tired, could only see out of one eye, couldn't lift her left arm, and admitted to feeling some pain.

Immediately Victor spoke again to his father, and said it looked to him that his mother may have suffered a stroke. She was immediately taken to an ER, where she was coded as a stroke victim and diagnosed as having a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or mini-stroke, with stroke symptoms that last less than 24 hours before disappearing.

Next Wednesday, October 29, the American Stroke Association Tampa Bay and Verizon will host a World Stroke Day pop-up station at Lykes Park in Downtown Tampa from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. to talk about what people can do to learn how to avoid strokes and detect the signs of an incident with friends or family.

"If you have any sort of numbness, tingling, not able to even feel one side of your body, from the toes to your face, and it goes away — those are signs of a stroke," says Tracy Czop, a neurology/stroke practitioner at Northside Hospital in St. Petersburg, where she works with stroke patients and their families. She says most people ignore those first signs, but the next time it happens, it may not be so subtle, which can result in a massive stroke, with massive lifetime "deficits" in terms of being able to function properly.

Czop says that there are two types of strokes: An ischemic attack (like Victor Diaz' mother suffered from), or a hemorrhagic, or blood stroke. 

Ischemic attacks won't kill you, but can leave one with a severe diminishment of quality of life. Lack of movement on one side of the body and/or the inability to speak or understand speech are some of its deleterious effects. The person is otherwise intact, however, and is in no danger of dying. But their quality of life is seriously compromised.

A hemorrhagic stroke is generally caused by hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol. Bad habits like smoking, lack of exercise and/or a bad diet can contribute those factors. 

Stroke practitioner Tracy Czop says that another factor is when people lose their health insurance after they lose their jobs and stop taking their medications to deal with hypertension or high cholesterol, believing that their medication is no longer affordable. But she says that in fact those drugs are available at Publix and Walmart for just a few dollars, and must continue to be taken. "It's a matter of life and death."

Some startling statistics that you may not know about strokes:

They're the leading cause of disability in the U.S.
The 4th largest cause of deaths in the U.S. (killing 129,000 people annually)
Current smokers have two to four times the stroke risk of nonsmokers or those who quit more than 10 years ago.

On World Stroke Day next Wednesday, visitors to Lykes Park in Tampa (as well as at smaller pop-up stations in Centro Ybor, USF Tampa, and the Sanderlin Center in St. Petersburg) can get free blood pressure screenings, take part in a "stroke relay" game, in which participants can experience what it might feel like to experience the F.A.S.T. symptoms of a stroke, and also pick up stroke resources, heart-healthy cookbooks and more. 

"You have to be very persistent, because most people don't know the signs," says Verizon's Diaz, referring to how his knowledge about the traits associated with a stroke were something he learned only days before he told his father to take his mother to the Emergency Room. "Most folks don't think it would happen to them. Had I not known anything about it, I would have said it was another headache, and thought it would go away," he says. But now he knows differently. "It's very important for folks to learn the warning signs," he says.

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