By Jill Braden Balderas

North Carolinians, like most of Americans, have limited knowledge of stroke symptoms and the importance of calling 911 immediately when one occurs. Just 17.6 percent of N.C. adults can identify a stroke and say they would call 911, according to the North Carolina Stroke Association (NCSA).

Each May, during Stroke Awareness Month, organizations around the state make a special effort to increase understanding of stroke. At Stanly Regional Medical Center, stroke awareness campaigns happen throughout the year.

“If you don’t constantly remind the public, these are stroke symptoms and this is what you do, you see those emergency room visits dwindle,” explained Margaret Rudisill, R.N., Director of Quality at Stanly Regional Medical Center in Albemarle, N.C. Rudisill also serves as the Program Coordinator for the NCSA.

More than 10 years ago, Stanly Regional branched out into its community offering free stroke screenings, based on a method created by the NCSA. About 800 patients a year get routine measurements like blood pressure and weight. They also receive more sophisticated tests to determine cholesterol and sugar levels as well as other stroke risk factors like an irregular heartbeat or carotid bruit, a blockage in the arteries that feed the brain.

Churches, schools and businesses apply to host the events and even provide volunteers to help facilitate. In the past, the screenings have been paid for by the hospital’s foundation. But this year, a grant from the NSCA supports them. The idea is not only to educate people on how to handle a stroke, but also to determine an individual’s risk for stroke.

“Prevention is still the best treatment for stroke,” explained Rudisill.

Rudisill recounts one screening attended by a slightly overweight 20-something man whose father nearly died from cardiovascular problems in his 50’s.

“It’s a small community so you know everybody,” said Rudisill.

The young man’s cholesterol and blood pressure were sky high. Because all the screenings include nurses individually going over the results with the patients, Rudisill took the opportunity to make clear to the man his situation.

“We were able to shake this guy up enough that he decided to change,” she said.  “He’s lost weight.  His cholesterol has come down.”

When Stanly Regional’s screening program first began, the county’s mortality rate from stroke was 103 per 100,000 people. Now it stands at 58 per 100,000 people. Rudisill not only credits the screenings with this improvement, but the hospital’s neurologist, David Schmidt, M.D., who led the charge to make sure patients who need tPA receive it (see related article for explanation of tPA treatment).

Rudisill hopes Stanly Regional, which has just 119 beds, can be an example to similar size hospitals.

“Many think, ‘We’re small we can’t do right,’” Rudisill said.  But she said Stanly shows it can be done.

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