Any guesses what the fourth-leading cause of death is in the U.S.? What if we said it’s also the No. 1 cause of disability?
Congratulate yourself if you knew the answer is stroke. But if you didn’t know, you’re not alone. Stroke is often mis- or undiagnosed, and for something which, according to the National Stroke Association, kills 2 million brain cells every minute, that’s a huge problem for those experiencing a stroke.
Since 1989, May has been designated as National Stroke Awareness Month. But 2012 marks the first year of the “Go Gray in May—Because Gray Matter Matters” campaign, started by Teri Giordano, NREMT-P, with Buncombe County (NC) EMS and Mission Hospitals Regional Transport Service. Giordano also cofounded Minutes Matter! in 2010, a grassroots campaign begun by five healthcare professionals with the initial goal of teaching 1% of the residents in western North Carolina the lifesaving techniques of hands-only CCR/CPR, how to recognize a stroke (utilizing Act FAST) and the importance of early 9-1-1 activation.
For Giordano, stroke hits particularly close to home.
“In August 2012, at age 42, I suffered stroke-like symptoms which turned out, luckily, to be a TIA (transient ischemic attack) or ‘mini stroke,’ as some people call it,” Giordano says. “I was in a small community hospital and the reaction from the emergency room staff was not focused on stroke. They dismissed me as ‘just being stressed.’
“When the symptoms cleared and I was able to speak again, I called my friend, another co-founder of Minutes Matter!, who also happens to be the stroke program coordinator at the only certified primary stroke center in western North Carolina,” continues Giordano. “I shared with her what was going on and told her we had to do something. We’re educating the public on how to recognize a stroke and to call 9-1-1 immediately, but what good is it if they get to the ER and our healthcare system fails them?”
Over the next few days, as Giordano underwent extensive testing (confirming she had an ischemic event of unknown origin in the left parietal region of her brain), she decided she wanted to create a theme for National Stroke Awareness Month which could unite all of the various agencies, groups and individuals fighting for greater understanding of stroke.
“Since the main part of the brain is gray matter,” Giordano explains, “I wanted to associate the color gray and, well, ‘Gray in May’ rhymes! I made contact with many of the people I have worked with through Minutes Matter!, ‘Gray Matter Matters’ was added by a colleague who works in eastern North Carolina on stroke awareness and it just stuck. One contact led to another and here we are.”
The focus of the “Go Gray in May” campaign is simple: to raise awareness for the prevention, recognition and treatment of a stroke during the month of May. Participants can commit to coordinating and/or participating in some type of event (e.g., a walk/run, bicycle tour or race, health screening, etc.) so long as it helps to raise stroke awareness.
“I’ve even been encouraging others to do something as simple as wearing gray on May 11 (the anniversary of the original proclamation designating May as National Stroke Awareness Month) and to forward e-mails and/or post information on how to Act FAST for stroke on bulletin boards to bike rides, fun walks, marathons and community health fairs,” says Giordano.
She’s coordinating her own community stroke screening in Buncombe County, which will be a collaborative effort to provide free stroke screening (including a cholesterol check, blood pressure check, heart rate evaluation and BMI), informational booths and an educational talk by a neurologist on how to reduce the risk factors for stroke. She also received a proclamation from the county marking May as stroke awareness month throughout the region.