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Supporting the Mind After a Stroke

Victoria Rottler, Penn State Berks student

The house is silent and the bedroom is pitch-black except for the moon peaking in between the drawn curtains. It was just like any other typical night of rest, or so Raymond Ernst thought. In the middle of the night he decided to sit up and realized that he did not have the strength in his legs to lift them and get out of bed. Even though he thought this seemed very peculiar he decided to go back to sleep. It wasn’t until the next morning at the breakfast table, where he experienced another episode along with confusion this time, that’s when Raymond’s wife called 911 in a panic. Even though he was unaware of what was happening to him, she could tell something was very medically wrong with her husband.

“My body felt heavy and I did not have the strength to get up. All of the sudden I was in the ambulance”, explained Raymond, still not sure exactly what had happened.

After he was rushed to the hospital, Raymond was hooked up to all kinds of machines. It wasn’t until after the doctors administered a CAT scan of his brain activity, when Raymond and his wife were informed of the shocking news that he had suffered a stroke.

It is very common that the victims of strokes have no idea that their brain may be undergoing changes such as a blockage or a bleed that can lead to two different kinds of strokes. For many people a stroke starts out as a bad headache and most people don’t think twice about it. They are signs ignored at their own peril. The warning signs and symptoms for stroke include numbness of the left side of the body, vision loss, facial paralysis, and the inability to verbalize his thoughts.

“Every stroke is different, and I think it is very important for people to be informed about the warning signs”, Raymond says with hope in his voice.

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The compassionate team at Penn State Health St. Joseph agrees with Raymond’s observation. The Clinical Program Coordinator of Heart Failure, Chest Pain, and Stroke, Kristin Miller, holds a stroke support group which meets the second Tuesday of every month at Penn State Health St. Joseph, which is reaccredited by the Joint Commission as a Primary Stroke Center in Bern Township. “Our main goal is to educate the community about strokes and also to give victims a comforting atmosphere to share their stories” says Kristin with a kindhearted tone. She enjoys teaching others the FAST facts for stroke awareness. This includes emphasizing that when it comes to stroke, every second counts towards improving chances for recovery. Spotting a stoke can be done through the FAST method: face drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulty, and time to call 9-1-1.

The Support Group is open to anyone in the community and newcomers are always welcome. Raymond, along with his sister and her spouse attend the support group every month.

“It has been a great way for him to stay in touch with his family and keep them up to date on his life through-out his recovery” explains Kristin.

Besides the opportunity to share and connect with others, the stroke support group also features an expert guest speaker every month who discuss topics such as healthy diet, exercise, anti-coagulant medications, physical and emotional changes after a stroke and much more.

Twelve years later Raymond says he feels great. Besides the fact that the left side of his body still experiences numbness and he has to be careful when picking things up with his left hand, he has come a long way since the day he had a stroke.

“My brother and sister are my biggest supporters,” Raymond added gratefully.

Surviving through a stroke is blessing all on its own. The road to recovery can be scary and overwhelming, but survivors and their loved ones that join Penn State Health St. Joseph stroke support group are never alone.

Kristin Miller, BSN, RN is the Clinical Program Coordinator of Heart Failure, Chest Pain, and Stroke at Penn State Health St. Joseph. She is responsible for the monthly Stroke Support Group and conducts community education surrounding FAST facts for stroke awareness. Kristin can be reached at KMiller39@PennStateHealth.psu.edu or 610-378-2492

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