Know Stroke: The Symptoms

It's a distinction we have, but it's not a good one. In a way, we're kind of the "Stroke Capital Of Texas." Doctors at ETMC say East Texans are more likely to die from stroke, than people in other parts of the state. That's why we've teamed up with East Texas Medical Center to make certain you "Know Stroke."

Yesterday in a KLTV 7 special report, we looked at the risk factors for stroke, the biggest being high blood pressure. This time, we're take a close look at symptoms. Because, knowing the symptoms and reacting properly to them, can make a huge difference in quality of life after a stroke.

"I was working on a car," says 45 year old mechanic, Robert Burgess. "I started getting a headache. Then I started getting dizzy. Well, I knew something wasn't right, so I called someone to come get me and I went to the house. About six hours later, I came to the hospital. I was in a coma when I got there," says Burgess. "I was in a coma for three days and the doctor called all my family together and said, more than likely I wouldn't make it and if I did, more than likely, I'd be a vegetable."

But sometimes, doctors get a little help they didn't expect. It's been two years, and Robert Burgess is well aware how lucky he is. "Here I am, I get up everyday and go to work. And I owe it to all the treatment and rehabilitation, and the good Lord above," says Burgess.

Now, he's doing everything right. But he did just about everything wrong on May 3, 2003--the day of his stroke. "I just figured it was a bad headache and I was sick at my stomach. And I figured it was from the headache," says Robert. Like a lot of men, he just wrote it off as nothing. Later, more dizziness and some numbness on his left side. "I woke up at home and when I went to get out of bed I had paralysis. I couldn't stand. I figured it was time to call 911."

He knows now, that call should have been made about six hours earlier. The problem he has now with his eye, the slurred speech...those things could have been avoided, if he had known the symptoms of stroke.

They are: Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm or leg, confusion or trouble speaking or understanding speech, trouble seeing, dizziness or trouble walking or a sudden severe headache. "The symptoms are usually one-sided," says ETMC Neurologist, Dr. Lester Collins. Dr. Collins says they see three or four new stroke victims in Tyler everyday. Many times, they'd like to have seen them a lot sooner. "People who have a stroke often have no pain whatsoever," says Dr. Collins. "That's the difference between a stroke and a heart attack. With a heart attack, they are in so much pain, they want to get to the hospital fast. With a stroke it's painless, so you don't have that same compulsion to get in."

Now that the "seconds count" concept has sunk in for heart attach victims, they're hoping to get East Texans thinking the same way about stroke.

Robert knows his risk is high for a second stroke. So now he watches his blood pressure, eats right. He's lost 20 pounds and everyone around him knows the symptoms and what to do. Call 911, right away. It's been a long road back. But Robert's grateful for a second chance at life. "Well, I've learned it's very valuable. Just being here everyday it's a new world."

Tomorrow, we'll talk more about "What To Do," and why doctors, never before have been able to offer so much hope for stroke patients who get to them soon enough.