National Stroke Awareness Month

Strokes happen to be the fifth leading cause of death across the nation, but in our region, they rank as the fourth—and third for women. Because 80 percent of strokes are preventable, greater awareness among the public could help these figures improve. “It’s heartbreaking to care for a stroke patient and realize the disabilities this individual could be left with,” says Jolene Barbazzeni, stroke certified registered nurse and stroke coordinator at Penn Highlands Healthcare. Remembering one rule, Barbazzeni says, can make a huge different in a stroke patient’s outcome: minutes matter.

With May as National Stroke Awareness Month, Barbazzeni lists this among other key rules that can better prepare anyone in the event of a stroke:

  • Call 911. “In rural areas,” she says, “people don’t call 911 because they believe an ambulance will take longer to get to the hospital than if they drive themselves.” And those patients might be right—but that still doesn’t mean they’ll be treated faster. “As soon as EMS arrive to transport a stroke patient to the emergency department,” Barbazzeni explains, “they issue a pre-alert and conduct pre-screenings to obtain all the patient’s information they need. This makes it much faster for us to treat the patient the moment they arrive at the ER and get them into a CT scan.” Barbazzeni cites the average walk-in to completed CAT scan timeframe as 24 minutes timeframe, while the average EMS transport to CAT scan time is 11 minutes. “Even if the patient drive fast, they won’t be treated faster,” she says.
  • How critical is this? “Every minute we don’t get to treat a stroke, the patient loses two million neurons.” This equates to an incredible seven miles of brain cells, or 440 miles of brain neurons lost for every hour a stroke goes untreated. Barbazzeni notes a patient would never fully rehabilitate from this kind of delay. “Our goal is to get a CAT scan completed within 20 minutes,” Barbazzeni says.
  • Remember the acronym “BEFAST” to assess possible symptoms of stroke:
    • Balance. Does the person have a sudden loss of balance or coordination, or sudden dizziness?
    • Eyes. Did the person have a sudden loss of change in either or both eyes? What do they see?
    • Face drooping. Does one side of the face droop, or is it numb?
    • Arm weakness. Is one arm or leg weak or numb? Is there decreased sensation or total numbness in one arm or leg?
    • Speech difficulty. Is the speech slurred or garbled? Are they having difficulty speaking or unable to speak? Are they able to understand what you’re saying to them?
    • Time to call 911. Call 911 if the person shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away. “T” also stands for the time symptoms started or the last time the person was known to be well. Healthcare workers will need to know the “last known normal” time to determine appropriate treatment and disposition.

Finally, know where to turn when a stroke strikes. All of the emergency departments across the Penn Highlands Healthcare system are equipped to treat a stroke and follow uniform protocols. Patients who go to PH Brookville, PH Clearfield, PH Elk and PH Huntingdon may be transferred to PH DuBois’s Primary Stroke Center. Four years in a row, this team at Penn Highlands DuBois has won the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association’s Get With The Guidelines Target: Stroke Honor Roll Elite Plus Quality Achievement Award—“and in 2020, we’re on track to win for the fifth consecutive year,” says Barbazzeni. The award recognizes the hospital’s commitment to ensuring stroke patients receive the most appropriate treatment according to nationally recognized, research-based guidelines based on the latest scientific evidence.

When it comes to prevention, Barbazzeni adds that diet, exercise and activity to keep the brain sharp are all useful, such as gardening, fishing or painting. “Television is not good for the brain,” she cautions. To receive a personal risk assessment for stroke, call Barbazzeni at 814-375-6476. Learn more about the experts in stroke care at