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Think FAST when stroke happens

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“The other important message is that time is of the essence.

Malebogo Mothibedi

MALEBOGO Mothibedi is an attractive, healthy, slim 34-year-old woman, who, just two weeks ago, suffered a stroke.

Her first day back at work at the Sol Plaatje Municipality yesterday after her stroke on September 4 saw Mothibedi back to her usual bubbly self – except now she is on long-term meditation to help prevent a similar occurrence.

With September being Heart and Stroke Month, Denise Coetzee, spokesperson for Mediclinic Kimberley/Gariep, pointed out yesterday that one of the messages that needs to be conveyed is that a person is never too young to have a stroke. “The other important message is that time is of the essence.

“This is the story of a young woman whose life was saved because the medical personnel attending to her recognised the symptoms and were able to give her the appropriate treatment,” Coetzee said yesterday.

“Despite her young age, the patient presented with the classic signs of a stroke when the ambulance staff picked her up. She was very lucky that they recognised the symptoms, and that the triage sister in the emergency unit at Mediclinic Gariep immediately alerted the ER doctor on duty, Dr Marinda le Grange, who, after assessing her, sent her to radiology for a scan.

“Great teamwork between the emergency unit staff, radiology and the ER doctor on duty, Dr Le Grange, not only saved the patient’s life, but also rescued her from paralysis.”

Dr Le Grange said that the public needed to realise that the quicker a stroke patient gets medical help, the better the clinical outcome. “Time is brain. If you suspect that you have any symptoms of a stroke, get to a hospital as quickly as possible.”

She added that if stroke victims received help within the golden period of three hours, a scan could be done to determine if the stroke was caused by a clot or bleeding. “Most (80%) strokes are caused by a blood clot. The other 20% by bleeding.”

According to a study done in the USA on 58 000 patients in 2013, each 15-minute reduction in the time to initiation of treatment was associated with an increase in the odds of walking independently at discharge and being discharged to home rather than a rehabilitation centre.

“Stroke patients with a blood clot can be injected with medicine to break up the clot. Strokes can cause long-lasting disability or even death. However, treatment and preventive measures can reduce the brain damage that occurs because of stroke. The sooner this medicine is injected, the better the chances are of recovery,” Dr Le Grange stated.

Symptoms include sudden weakness or droopiness of the face or problems with vision; sudden weakness or numbness of one arm and difficulty speaking, slurred speech or garbled speech.

The acronym FAST is used to remember the symptoms (Facial drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulties and Time to call emergency services).

“The symptoms of a stroke usually begin suddenly but sometimes develop over hours or days, depending upon the type of stroke. One or more areas of the brain can be damaged. Depending upon the area affected, a person most commonly may lose the ability to move one side of the body and the ability to speak.”

Stroke risk factors include being older than 40 years, heart disease, high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, high blood cholesterol levels, illegal drug use, recent childbirth, inactive lifestyle and lack of exercise, obesity, history of blood clots and family history of cardiac disease and/or stroke.

Mothibedi, however, was totally unprepared when she had her stroke.

“I have always been healthy and even on the day when I had the stroke I felt absolutely fine.”

She said she left work at around 4pm and went home. “I went into my bedroom and my mother, who was sitting on the stoep, asked me what was wrong because I was not walking properly. I didn’t feel anything untoward, however.”

She said her mother felt her and said she felt a bit feverish and said she looked dizzy.

“Suddenly I felt that I had a massive headache. That was the first time I felt funny.”

Mothibedi said her mother noticed that her mouth was pulling skew and called the ambulance. “They arrived and took my blood pressure, which was normal, as well as my sugar levels, which were elevated.”

On the way to the hospital, Mothibedi said that she indicated to the paramedic, because at that stage she couldn’t talk properly, that she couldn’t feel her tongue and her left leg. “My whole left side was numb.”

From there on, much of what happened is a blur. “I spent a day and a half in high care.”

Mothibedi says that tests have been done to determine what caused the stroke. “I am still waiting for the outcome of the test. At this stage it is still a mystery.

“The fact that I had a stroke was a total shock to me – I was very emotional when I realised what had happened. I have two young boys, a 10-year-old and a two-year-old . . . they wouldn’t have a mother if something happened to me.”

She stated that besides being a slim 66kg and playing tennis, she also has no family history of strokes or heart disease.

“I thank God for my survival and I am extremely grateful. My story could have had a very different ending.”