Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center
May is Stroke Awareness Month
Each year, May is recognized as Stroke Awareness Month. A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is blocked by a clot, bursts or ruptures. The disease is the number one cause of adult disability in the United States and the fourth leading cause of death in women and the fifth leading cause of death in men. The good news? Stroke is largely preventable, treatable and beatable. Registered nurse Elizabeth Aprile, a recent addition to the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center, is here to help spread that message as the facility's first Stroke Program Coordinator.
"Last year Charleston VA saw about 250 patients that appeared to be having stroke-like symptoms," said Aprile. "During a stroke, two million brain cells die per minute. The sooner we can treat patients that are having a stroke and intervene, the more likely it is that they won't experience long-term effects."
One part of Aprile's responsibilities is to educate staff throughout the hospital and outpatient clinics so they are able to recognize the signs and symptoms of stroke.
"My goal is to empower staff across many different disciplines so they know what to look for," said Aprile. "My role helps bring a coordinated effort together for our stroke patients and gets the word out that 80 percent of strokes are preventable by minimizing risk factors and changing lifestyle choices that put people more at risk. Twice as many women die from stroke than breast cancer--that's a fact most people have never heard."
Another focus for Aprile is the development of stroke order sets. For example, in the Emergency Department she is working with staff to develop an "ED-one-click" order set that will save time when a patient presents with stroke symptoms. The one-click set puts into motion the ordering of tests and medication to treat the patient more efficiently knowing that each minute that passes cause more and more brain damage.
Charleston VA Medical Center is also working on research in stroke recovery with the goal of assisting those who are experiencing the after effects.
"We currently have five researchers with joint Charleston VAMC and Medical University of South Carolina appointments," said VA Research Career Scientist Dr. Steve Kautz, a 24-year VA health care employee. "Most strokes affect both upper and lower limb function in some way. Our researchers are working in a number of different studies to restore functionality to those areas after a stroke."
One particular study is investigating if non-invasive brain stimulation can augment rehabilitation of lower limbs. According to Dr. Kautz, brain stimulation increases brain excitability, which could help with rehabilitation. This study is still in the preliminary phases and is funded through a VA research grant.
During Stroke Awareness Month, consider taking the time to improve your personal risk factors. Common risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, and diabetes, with the most common risk factor among Veterans being high blood pressure. To learn more stroke prevention, plan to attend the Stroke Awareness Fair in the Charleston VAMC's Main Auditorium on Thursday, May 26 from 10 a.m. - 1 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.