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BE FAST to Spot the Early Signs of Stroke

Local Survivor Shares Her Story to Encourage Awareness

Knowing stroke signs was key for Sarah Whitehair, when she, mid-conversation with her daughter after school in their Huntingtown home, found herself having stroke symptoms.

“I got dizzy and the room seemed to tilt. When I tried to speak, I noticed only parts of some words would come out. My right arm was weak and started to tingle. I couldn’t communicate to my daughter what was going on. I immediately thought I was having a stroke. I checked the time, noting the onset of symptoms and thought, ‘You don’t have a lot of time. This is the onset of your symptoms’. I knew I had to get to the hospital immediately,” Whitehair said.

The 35-year-old single mother and CalvertHealth Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurse was trained to recognize the signs of a stroke and treats stroke patients regularly.

Once she realized she was making the grunting sounds and she couldn’t communicate, she immediately thought she was having a stroke and knew how critical it is to get to the hospital quickly to receive clot-busting medication to prevent lasting effects from the stroke.

Early Intervention Key to Recovery

Early intervention to stroke symptoms is critical, as well as stroke prevention. Keys to stroke prevention include managing high blood pressure (the leading cause of stroke), avoiding tobacco use and vaping, getting regular physical activity, managing cholesterol, and having a healthy diet.

Whitehair’s health checked all the boxes, but she still had symptoms. After quick intervention at CalvertHealth and other area providers, it was discovered that the cause of Whitehair’s stroke was a 20-milimeter hole in her heart, not one of the more common risk factors. She also suffered what is called a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or mini stroke, which is known to be a “warning shot” and can lead to a full-fledged stroke within two years. TIAs differ from strokes in their duration and severity, but still require medical attention to differentiate it from a stroke.

CalvertHealth is designated as a Primary Stroke Center by the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems (MIEMMS), surveyed every five years to be a primary stroke center.

“This assures CalvertHealth is using the latest and best therapies and treatments to ensure the best possible outcomes and permits emergency medical services to transport stroke patients to CalvertHealth over a nondesignated center,” said Crystal Gray, RN, BSN, quality outcomes coordinator for CalvertHealth, and coordinator of CalvertHealth’s stroke program.

It was a puzzle initially to diagnose Whitehair, since she didn’t have any of the typical risk factors. Additional testing was needed to learn about the hole in her heart, which required surgery to implant a device in her heart she will have for life.

“The team at Calvert listened and got me to where I needed to be,” Whitehair said.

Thanks to quick action and knowing the signs of a stroke, Whitehair’s symptoms resolved within a day of her TIA and as long as she maintains a healthy lifestyle and avoids other risk factors, she doesn’t have any lasting physical effects from her scare. However, her experience will impact how she empathizes with her stroke patients at CalvertHealth.

“To know what my patients feel like, when patients come to us and when they have a stroke and their ability to communicate is not always normal for them, I now know what that feels like – it’s not a cognitive defect,” Whitehair said.

Being “Stroke Smart” is Community Effort

As part of a community awareness campaign, the Calvert County Commissioners recently issued a “Stroke Smart” proclamation to call on everyone who lives or works in Calvert County to educate themselves and others about how to recognize the symptoms of a stroke.

CalvertHealth Offers Stroke Support Programs

The Stroke Wellness Group offers support for stroke survivors and caregivers as they go through their journey to recovery. The group meets the first Wednesday of each month from 4:30-5:30 p.m. and is open to anyone interested in learning more about stroke wellness, prevention and support. Guest speakers provide education on nutrition, risk factors, prevention and fitness. For more information, call 410.414.4759.

In addition, CalvertHealth Outpatient Rehabilitation (CHOR) provides physical, occupational and speech therapy to help stroke survivors relearn skills lost after a stroke. Depending on the part of your brain affected by the stroke, rehabilitation can help with movement, speech, strength and daily living skills. Stroke rehabilitation can help you regain independence and improve your quality of life.
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