Stroke Awareness Foundation Encourages Recognition of Stroke Symptoms

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Ten years ago, Chuck Toeniskoetter had a massive stroke that left the right side of his body completely paralyzed. At the time, he was completely unaware of stroke symptoms, because as a former Marine and avid fitness freak (he was skiing at the time), he had no clear risk factors. In 2003, Toeniskoetter started the Stroke Awareness Foundation which helps both the community and health professionals recognize the risk factors and signs and symptoms of stroke.

Strokes occur when a part of the brain dies from lack of blood, usually because one of the arteries that supply blood to the brain is either clogged or bursts. Symptoms include sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body; sudden confusion; trouble speaking or understanding; loss of balance or coordination; and/or sudden headache with no known cause.

According to statistics, only 1 percent of stroke victims in the US receive proper medical treatment. Toeniskoetter was lucky in that he was directed to a Sacramento hospital that recognized his symptoms and administered tPA (tissue plasminogen activators), an FDA-certified medication that dissolved the clot in his brain. Today, the SAF organization has stroke-certified eight hospitals in California so that residents there receive the best possible stroke care. The Santa Clara County area has the largest concentration of stroke-certified centers in the country.

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The Joint Commission’s Primary Stroke Center Certification Program uses recommendations issued by the Brain Attack Coalition and the American Stroke Association. To be certified, a hospital must comply with national standards for care, have clinical practice guidelines in place to manage and optimize care, and must track performance and include plans for improvement. The Joint Commission awards certification for one year to primary stroke centers that successfully demonstrate compliance in all three areas.

The American Stroke Association provides tools and resources to help hospitals become ready for certification by The Joint Commission.
Acute Stroke Treatment Program (ASTP). This toolkit helps hospitals build the critical foundation and infrastructure for becoming a primary stroke center.
Get With The Guidelines–Stroke is a continuous quality improvement program that helps hospitals begin collecting and analyzing their stroke data, and provides a continuous way for physicians and hospital staff to monitor their performance with guidelines.

To find a Primary Stroke Center hospital near you, the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association offers a map based on zip code.

The Stroke Awareness Foundation is now turning most of its efforts toward community awareness. "Most people that have a stroke don't even know that they're having a stroke because their brain is under attack," said Sherry Houston, executive director of the Stroke Awareness Foundation. "It doesn't matter who you train, if they can recognize it, they can save somebody else's life."

This summer, Toeniskoetter is participating in a 13,000-mile cross-country ride on a red Harley Davidson motorcycle to raise awareness about the third-leading cause of death among Americans. (Read more at MercuryNews.com)

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