Florida Firefighters Spread Word about Strokes

PALM BEACH GARDENS – Beverly Jarrell says she has recovered completely from a stroke because her family responded quickly when she was stricken.

The 79-year-old Palm Beach Gardens woman remembers spending what seemed to be a normal evening with family at home in December. Then she struggled to speak.

The next thing Jarrell remembered was her husband and son helping her as an ambulance arrived. Her husband, Bobby, had promptly called 911.

“I cannot tell you how grateful I am to have recovered 100 percent,” she said last week while sharing her story at a Stroke Awareness Month event at Palm Beach State College’s Eissey Campus.

“It was due to the fact that my husband called 911 immediately when he saw the symptoms and the ambulance came within minutes. We went into the hospital. They took me right away. Everything happened so fast.”

Jarrell’s example is one that local health officials hope others who experience strokes — a leading cause of both death and disability — will follow.

As part of Stroke Awareness Month, officials from Palm Beach Gardens Fire Rescue and area physicians are holding a series of events aimed at educating the public about how to identify and react to a stroke — the sudden death of brain cells due to lack of oxygen, caused by blocked blood flow or a rupture of an artery to the brain.

Palm Beach Gardens Fire Rescue has noticed through recent tracking that many stroke patients are waiting longer before seeking help, Deputy Chief Keith Bryer said. In 2014, patients having strokes waited an average 74 minutes before seeking help, Bryer said. In 2015, that average time went up to 112 minutes.

Bryer said the trend is particularly worrisome because each minute that passes during a stroke has the potential to do increased and irreversible damage to a person’s brain.

“It’s been a huge, huge problem for us,” Bryer said. ” For every minute that goes by that somebody’s having a stroke, they lose 1.9 million brain cells. In order to decrease incidents of not only death, but disability, we want them to know that they’ve got to call 911 right away.”

According to the American Stroke Association, strokes are the fifth-leading cause of death in the United States and one of the leading causes of disability.

This past year, Palm Beach Gardens Fire Rescue took 148 patients who had strokes to hospitals. Bryer said there was no definitive answer as to why the delay times went up. However, patients have offered up a variety of reasons .

“We hear all kinds of different reasons, from ‘I didn’t want to upset anybody’ to ‘I thought it would go away,'” Bryer said. “Many say, ‘I just laid down and went to sleep and then woke up,’ which is even worse because those are hours that went by, and a lot of times, outside a certain window you can’t even get treatment.”

Dan Millstone, the division chief of training and safety for Palm Beach County Fire Rescue, said it is important to call 911 so that paramedics can determine the appropriate facility to take the patient and to coordinate with the hospital before a patient arrives.

“It’s all about trying to get the patient to the right hospital the first time,” he said.

This month, officials in Palm Beach Gardens have visited local markets, recreation centers and even Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, among other places, offering stroke risk assessments and handing out information to the public.

As part of the education campaign, health officials have also stressed the importance of identifying the signs of a stroke. Common symptoms include drooping on one side of a person’s face, numbness or weakness in an arm, and slurred or strange speech.

The chance of having a stroke nearly doubles for each decade after a person reaches age 55, according to the American Stroke Association. But strokes can also afflict younger people, officials warn.

“It can happen at any age for different reasons,” Bryer said. “You can’t say to somebody ‘you’re too young to have a stroke.'”

Bryer said the fire department will continue the stroke awareness campaign until it sees an improvement in response times.

“We’re going to do this every year until we see an acceptable drop,” he said.

jwhigham@pbpost.com Twitter: @JuliusWhigham



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