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Knowing the symptoms of stroke can be a life saver

By Staff | Apr 10, 2010

Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States but is preventable if people know the warning signs.
Nationwide there are 795,000 strokes each year and it remains the leading cause of long-term disability. Cape Coral resident Philip Hanaburgh, 53, is a stroke survivor who is trying to educate people of all ages in Southwest Florida to learn about the signs of this affliction and seek medical treatment before it’s too late.
May also kicks-off National Stroke Awareness Month.
A stroke occurs when blood ceases to pump in the brain, causing severe damage. The most common reasons include the narrowing of an artery, a hardening of a major blood vessel or when an artery ruptures causing an aneurysm.
“People don’t know much about strokes, as much as they do about heart attacks,” said Hanaburgh.
Since his stroke in May 2007, he’s been working with the Stroke Association of Florida, a non-profit created in Sarasota to educate the community on prevention. He also wrote a book about his experience entitled, “Are You Ready.”
Symptoms of a developing stroke, according to the Stroke Association of Florida, include numbness of face, arm or leg, trouble speaking or seeing, a severe headache with no apparent cause and a loss of balance or coordination. Even though the risk of stroke doubles for a person each decade after they turn 55, it can also effect teenagers or young adults, said Hanaburgh.
He explained that receiving immediate medical treatment after experiencing these symptoms can mitigate the effects of the stroke, especially in the first three hours. Doctors can immediately administer a clotting agent to break up any clots in the bloodstream.
“The symptoms are the most important thing for people to learn,” he said. “People need to treat it as an immediate medical emergency, call 911 and go to the hospital.”
Of course, having a stroke doesn’t mean life is over.
When Hanaburgh turned 50 he had an aneurysm in his brain which paralyzed the left side of his body, forcing him to stop working as a carpenter and quit the recreational activities he enjoyed.
“You lose your work and every game you play,” he said.
Unfortunately, his insurance policy only covered a portion of all the physical therapy, so his wife Paola not only became his caregiver but also his physical therapist. The two worked out in a pool so that he could relearn how to walk and today he is patiently trying to regain full use of his hand.
Professional opinions on whether stroke victims can regain full use of their bodies has changed. In the past, doctors weren’t as optimistic about victims working through their disabilities.
“They used to say whatever you got in the first year you won’t get anything else after that,” he said. “They found out that is not true, the brain is more bendable than they believed at first.”
Hanaburgh recently joined a golf club called the “Strokers” where victims learned to play through their disabilities. He plays side-by-side with a 93-year-old man who had a stroke nearly 30-years-ago.
There are two support groups in Fort Myers and Cape Coral where stroke survivors discuss their experiences and offer tips to each other on how to deal with any physical issues. The local one meets every Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. at the Wellness Center behind Cape Coral Hospital. Lee Memorial Health System also hosts Stroke Education Seminars at the Wellness Center and throughout the county.