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Stroke Awareness Month: Preventing a Major Killer

High blood pressure can be an indicator of a person's risk for stroke. (blausen/Wikimedia Commons)
High blood pressure can be an indicator of a person's risk for stroke. (blausen/Wikimedia Commons)
May 3, 2017

FARGO, N. D. – May is National Stroke Awareness Month, and health groups and medical professionals are encouraging people to assess their own risk factors for stroke.

Stroke is a leading cause of death and disability in North Dakota, but is largely preventable if people stay on top of such indicators as high blood pressure.

For a small group of people, vulnerability to stroke is genetic. Scott Sobolik's mother died of a stroke just before he turned 13, and five years ago, Sobolik himself had a brain aneurysm that resulted in a massive stroke. He has since made a full recovery and has advice for survivors.

"Don't give up. For one thing, the brain continues to heal for years after the stroke took place," he explained. "So, if you have some bad side effects, don't just give in to it. Keep fighting and keep trying to get better."

Sobolik added that unfortunately, not everyone is as lucky as he has been. Someone has a stroke in the United States every 40 seconds. If treatment is received quickly, however, strokes are far more manageable than they've ever been in the past.

According to Chrissy Meyer, communications director for the American Heart Association in North and South Dakota, about 80 percent of strokes are preventable. She credits the awareness efforts by her organization and the American Stroke Association for the nation seeing a decline in deaths attributed to stroke over the last several years.

"We feel that this is largely a factor of educating people about their risk factors of stroke," Meyer said, "but also helping people to recognize the signs and symptoms of stroke using acronyms like FAST, and people getting treatment in a timely fashion."

The acronym FAST is used to recognize the most common warning signs of stroke: "F" stands for face drooping, "A" for arm weakness, "S" for speech difficulty, and "T" for time to call 9-1-1 if a person is showing any of these symptoms.

As for Sobolik, he now has a passion for working with stroke survivors and hopes to one day become a post-stroke counselor. He said his survival is good evidence of people's ability to recover.

"I mean, how much more proof can you have that you can get better than somebody standing in front of you who had a huge, massive stroke?" he asked.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ND