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Celebrity no guarantee of stroke free life

relaxing on a break from a book signing
relaxing on a break from a book signing
Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images

The third leading cause of death in the United States is Stroke. Regardless of celebrity, a crab fisherman, a native Kansan, a long-haired country boy and a Prairie Home Companion…all experienced a stroke. Each man, to a different degree, but each of no less importance.

Each new case gives us much needed information on what to do and what not to do when stroke hits. Captain Phil Harris, Kerry Livgren, Charlie Daniels and Garrison Keillor were all unique individuals with considerably different outcomes.

The latter, Garrison Keillor and his “Prairie Home Companions” celebrate their 40th year on July 6th. A three-day celebration begins Friday, July 4th at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. This is the same place where the beloved creator, Keillor, opened the first live broadcast of the show in 1974. Keillor recalls, “It was amateurish, of course," referencing that first show. "A writer trying to impersonate a performer. I tried to sound homespun and folksy, in a high-pitched twang. A tiny audience in the hall at Macalester.

“Ninety minutes of music and painful whimsy.”, says Keillor. “And, afterward, awkward though it was, we all felt pretty good about it. I was 32 and unreasonably sure of myself. If I listened to a tape of that show today, I would writhe in agony."

Forty years, and going strong, the show can be heard on more than 600 public radio stations across the country and draws a weekly audience of 4 million. Rumors of retirement have dwindled over the last few years and Keillor’s work schedule has been busier than ever. In an interview with Pioneer Press, staff writer, Amy Carlson Gustafson, the folksy master explained, “There was the book tour, the "Prairie Home" shows around the country, preparing for the 40th anniversary celebration and getting ready to host a "Prairie Home" Baltic cruise in early August, a couple of days after he turns 72. After that it's a show at the Minnesota State Fair and then one in Paris.”

Time has proven to be a powerful motivator for Keillor, who has a grown son, Jason, and a 16-year-old daughter, Maia, with his wife, Jenny Lind Nilsson. "Time is running out," said Keillor, who suffered a minor stroke five years ago but returned to work a few days later. " At 71, you see bad junk happen to your classmates and cousins and you think, 'This could happen to me. Better get a move on.'"

Stroke is no joke. A stroke unattended or ignored will most likely cause irreversible brain damage and paralysis…quite possibly, death. When someone is having a stroke, time is of the essence. Sadly, stroke claimed the life of Captain Phil Harris. Transversely, out of the 4 million stroke survivors in the United States living with after-effects, Charlie Daniels, Kerry Livgren are determined now, more than ever, to carry on.

Sometimes stroke is hard to identify due to continuing brain damage in the individual, but, there are "3 steps" to identifying stroke in an individual: 1. Ask the individual to smile. 2. Ask them to raise both arms. 3. Ask the person to speak their name and address. If any of these questions are suspect, called 9-1-1 immediately.

Stroke is a silent killer that shouldn't be ignored. Each report of stroke seems to defy the norm and adds new information to stroke education. No two strokes seem to be alike. Two million brain cells die every minute during a stroke, increasing risk of permanent brain damage, disability or death, according to stroke statistics provided by The Stroke Center at University Hospital, Newark, New Jersey.

Recognizing subtle symptoms and reacting quickly to get medical attention can save a life and limit disabilities. "First of all, if you begin to feel a stiffness in your limbs or face or if one or more of your limbs start to become difficult to control, immediately chew up a couple of aspirin and head for the nearest hospital or clinic.", Charlie Daniels warns, "Don't procrastinate or try to tell yourself it's going to go away. You only have three hours from the time you feel a stroke coming on to get a shot of tPA (Tissue Plasminogen Activator) into your system to break up the blood clots that are causing the stroke. So don't play with your life, get help." Seconds count after symptoms are apparent and the sooner a patient gets to a medical facility, the better the chances of recovery.

Medical sources agree with Mr. Daniels, you have a three hour window from the onset of stroke symptoms to administration of the clotbuster agent, tPA. The medical community refers to "door-to-needle" time, which is the time between a patient's arrival at a medical facility and the intravenous introduction of the tissue-plasminogen activator.

The National Stroke Association posted a year old article from Science Daily's writer Al Ford. Diagnosing acute stroke is a high-pressure decision. The speed with which treatment is delivered makes all the difference. Early treatment can stop brain damage, but if treatment is given inappropriately, it can dangerously increase the risk of bleeding in the brain. Because of this risk, the final decision to administer stroke treatment—a clot-busting enzyme known as tissue plasminogen activator (tPA)—is usually reserved for neurologists or, in some cases, other attending physicians.

But now a study conducted by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis with neurology residents at Barnes-Jewish Hospital has shown that residents with appropriate training can safely make the call, ensuring that effective treatment is delivered faster. "Door-to-needle" times...were reduced by 26%, from an average of 81 minutes to 60 minutes. "What's critical here is ability to safely reduce 'door-to-needle' time without unnecessarily increasing the risk of a brain hemorrhage," says Jin-Moo Lee, M.D., Ph.D., director of the cerebrovascular section in Neurology at Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

"I have seen the hand of God extended over me in the past when I was in a dangerous situation and I knew He was near.", recalls Mr. Daniels, "There were so many things that made me know that God was ordering our I said, nothing less than the hand of God!"

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.


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Additional web pages:
4. - ScienceDaily (Feb. 24, 2009), author Al Ford