May 10, 2017

Stroke team raises awareness during National Stroke Month

Katherine Watson and her grandfather Bill Ward are close-knit. The Centralia fifth-grader and her “papa” like to go fishing, play games and practice softball together. Now, thanks to the Missouri Stroke Program, Ward also has extra peace of mind when he’s with his granddaughter.

Ward’s always been healthy and physically active, but in 2004, he experienced a sudden stroke that required many months of recovery. Recurrent strokes make up about one out of four of the nearly 800,000 strokes experienced in the U.S. every year, according to the National Stroke Association.

If Ward has another, he’s confident that Katherine will know what to do. MU Health Care’s stroke specialists travel to schools in Columbia and mid-Missouri to educate students on the symptoms of stroke and how to be prepared if a loved one shows symptoms.

“Fifth-graders are the perfect age to teach about stroke awareness,” said Tami Harris, RN, stroke program coordinator at MU Health Care. “They’re old enough to understand the dangers of a stroke, and they’re young enough to absorb the information and really take it to heart.”

Since September, the team has visited students at seven area grade schools and one Boy Scout troop. The team explains the causes of stroke, how to recognize symptoms and what to do if someone shows signs of a stroke. They also lead activities with students to demonstrate the lasting effects a stroke can cause by having them buckle a belt with only one hand or write with their non-dominant hand.

The team provides each student with an “Act F.A.S.T. Pact.” Students sign the pact, pledging that they know the symptoms of a stroke and to call 911 if someone around them shows those symptoms. More than 315 mid-Missouri students have signed the pact.

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted or drastically reduced, depriving the brain of oxygen and nutrients. The longer a stroke goes untreated, the greater the potential for brain damage and disability. According to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, more than 3,000 Missourians die from a stroke each year. It is the fifth leading cause of death nationwide and the No. 1 cause of disability for men and women.

Harris and Danielle Peek, RN, certified stroke nurse, teach students about the need for a F.A.S.T. response to a stroke:

  • F for facial droop: Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile and note if the smile is uneven.
  • A for arm weakness: Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to lift both arms and note if one arm drifts back down.
  • S for speech difficulty: Slurred speech can indicate a possible stroke. Ask the person to say a simple sentence, such as “The grass is green.”
  • T for time to call 911: If someone is exhibiting symptoms consistent with a stroke, even if the symptoms should stop, call 911 to get emergency assistance immediately. Be sure to note the time symptoms began.

“It’s really great that children are made aware of what the symptoms are and things they can do to avoid going through a situation I had to go through,” Ward said. “Katherine is a pretty smart gal. I feel confident that she would be able to respond appropriately if I or someone else had a stroke.”

“It makes me feel happy, because if someone’s having a stroke, I can help them and they will feel better,” Katherine said.

A stroke doesn’t affect only older adults, Peek said.

“We’re seeing younger and younger people have a stroke,” Peek said. “That’s why it’s important that students are equipped to recognize a stroke and call 911. We want to educate as many students as we can, because time lost is brain lost.”

For more information or to schedule a school visit from the Missouri Stroke Program, please contact Danielle Peek, RN, certified stroke nurse, at