May is Stroke Awareness Month. This annual campaign raises public awareness about stroke risk factors, prevention, symptom recognition and acting fast to treat stroke. In addition, this is a time for remembering those who have survived a stroke and to let them know that there is help for them throughout their lifelong recovery journey. Because women are uniquely affected by stroke, this year’s campaign will once again focus on “The Women in Your Life” and the impact of stroke on our mothers, sisters, wives and daughters. It is also the goal of National Stroke Association to engage men to learn more about stroke, by asking them to think about the personal impact it can have on the women in their lives.

The key to stroke prevention and a healthy lifestyle is awareness, and most of what you need to know about stroke can be found at the American Stroke Association’s Web site, www.strokeassociation.org. There you will find vital information, including these warning signs:
•Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
•Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
•Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
•Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
•Sudden, severe headache with no known cause
Be aware that stroke is a medical emergency, and as the Stroke Association tells consumers, “Call 9-1-1 immediately if you experience symptoms! Time lost is brain lost!”

Every Minute Counts
In fact, time is of the essence for people who suffer a stroke.
“The key issue is time,” says John Freiberg, M.D., a neurologist with Cullicchia Neurological Clinic. “There is only one FDA-approved treatment that can reverse the effect of a stroke, the clotbuster drug, but the drip has to be started within three hours of the stroke –  exactly 180 minutes.”

Cullicchia Neurological Clinic offers all facets of stroke care, with a team in place for acute stroke treatment. “We have an interventional neuroradiologist who can put stents in arteries and unblock arteries,” says Freiberg. “We can deliver the clotbuster drug through a catheter right at the site of the clogged artery for some patients who do not make it within the three hour window, but who might still benefit for up to five or six hours after the stroke.”

The clinic also performs neurosurgery to help manage hemorrhagic stroke, and to help treat large strokes which include brain swelling. “Ninety percent of stroke involves sudden loss of blood flow to the brain, but about 10 percent are caused by an artery rupturing which puts a clot in the brain,” says Freiberg.

The doctors at Cullicchia Neurological work with West Jefferson Hospital, where a stroke team includes the ER, a specially trained nurse who immediately evaluates the patients, and a neurologist. Freiberg is the head of the Neurovascular Acute Stroke Unit at West Jefferson. Cullicchia Neurological Clinic also provides services at Touro Infirmary and Ochsner on the West Bank. For more information about Cullichia Neurological, please call 504-340-6976 or visit www.cullichianeuro.com
Because patients can suffer a stroke at any time, and since time is of the essence, Ochsner Medical Center provides comprehensive stroke care around the clock, says Robert Felberg, M.D., a neurologist with specialized training in stroke and neuro-intensive critical care, and director of the stroke program at Ochsner’s Department of Neurology.

“We are one of the few places in the country that is Joint Commission certified,” Felberg says. “The Joint Commission is a group that accredidates hospitals, and we have been certified for two years now.”

Ochsner conducts an annual stroke education awareness session, to be held this year at the New Orleans Marriott Hotel in May.

“There are several things that set us apart from other institutions,” Felberg says. “We conduct research and do clinical trials here. And, we do cath-based procedures, since we have physicians with specialized training in the ability to use catheters to do procedures on the heart and the brain to treat and prevent stroke.”

Right now, Ochsner is involved in nearly 14 clinical trials involving patients with stroke, Felberg says. For more information about Ochsner Medical Center please visit www.ochsner.org.

Knowledge is Power
“There are many different causes for stroke, and there are many different medical and surgical interventions that exist for treating different kinds of stroke,” says Richard L. Corales, M.D., one of the doctors with Southern Brain and Spine, a multi-disciplinary group specializing in brain and spine abnormalities. “It is important for the public to be aware of any transient symptoms that they might otherwise ignore, which include tingling, numbness or weakness of the extremities, or problems with speech.”

Again, it all comes back to timely treatment. “With the present technologic advancements and diagnostic studies, early intervention can be instituted quickly if the patient is evaluated by a physician or emergency room in a timely manner,” Corales says.

Southern Brain and Spine offers medical and surgical treatment, as well as rehabilitation and chronic follow up. The practice is based at East Jefferson General Hospital, but services a large referral area in southeast Louisiana. For more information about Southern Brain and Spine, please call 504-889-7200 or 504-454-0141
Education is key when dealing with stroke. At Thibodaux Regional Medical Center, a quarterly brain injury forum is held at the outpatient center.

“We invite agencies and speakers to address topics that would be of interest to family members and individuals who have suffered brain injuries,” says Annemarie B. Clancy, a speech pathologist in the outpatient center. “We address the return to the community or to work and re-entry into the educational system. We also talk about the Medicaid system and programs within the system, the application process and anything else that people need to know in this area.”

Clancy says this is an ideal way for people to find out about financial issues, re-entry issues and to network and gather support from other families. This is also a place for professionals to raise awareness of community issues that exists for individuals who are attempting to continue their rehabilitation within their own communities and not in a 24-hour residential setting.

“The hospital also supports the Mayors Council on Disabilities, with a monthly forum open to all agencies and family members,” says Clancy. “This is a group of professionals working toward creating opportunities for housing and transportation, and advocating for accessibility to such things as voting places.” For more information about Thibodaux Regional Medical Center please visit www.thibodaux.com

Re-Learning Essential Skills
One of the greatest challenges for stroke patients is the re-learning of everyday behaviors and skills. At West Jefferson Medical Center Rehab Connection, a new Outpatient Neurological Rehab Center trains stroke patients in the skills essential to successful daily living.

Physical therapist Robbie Hughes, M.P.T., directs the center, where a dedicated space allows patients privacy and time to re-learn their skills. “We have space for our speech therapists, physical therapists and occupational therapists to take a multi-disciplinary approach,” says Hughes. “It helps for these patients to have fewer distractions.”

Included in the space are full kitchens and bathrooms, where patients can learn to adapt to their disabilities. In the kitchen, for example, a patient can learn to operate from a wheelchair, with lowered cabinets and sinks. In the bathroom setting, patients can learn to use tub benches, bars in the shower and commode extensions.
The training also includes the use of a washer and dryer. There are also treadmills with a belt-like harness that straps around the trunk area and pulls a certain amount of the weight off to assist the patient with walking. “Our goal is to train them to use adaptive equipment if they need that,” Hughes says. “Our facilities offer a full continuum of care from day one. Patients come to us at different times, but we like to see them as soon as they possibly can.” For more information about West Jeff Medical Center Rehab Connection, please call 504-349-6966

For more information about stroke, start by visiting the Web site of the American Stroke Association, at www.strokeassociation.org.