Mark Gorman, MD, neurologist and director of the Stroke Program at the UVM Medical Center

Stroke. For most of us, it’s a terrifying word because we imagine a stroke leaving us unable to talk, move, or to be ourselves. But do you truly understand what it means?

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel carrying oxygen to your brain is either blocked or bursts. If this happens, a part of the brain cannot get the oxygen it needs and starts to die. This occurs every 40 seconds in the U.S. with 780,000 Americans suffering a new or recurrent stroke each year, and it’s the third cause of death following heart disease and cancer. This is a pretty scary reality, but there is hope.

Time is of the essence in the treatment of stroke – so, in 2007, the UVM Medical Center initiated a joint effort with local Emergency Medical Services (EMS) to develop a protocol for the early recognition and pre-hospital treatment of stroke. Once an EMS provider identifies a possible stroke, the UVM Medical Center is notified and a Stroke Alert is called. A team of specialists meets the patient in the emergency department. This has significantly decreased the time from onset of symptoms to treatment – translating to increased survival and better recovery for patients. We are in the process of improving our process to reduce time to treatment even more.

Recently, the UVM Medical Center teamed up with Vermont EMS District 3 to help alleviate anxiety for patients experiencing stroke and their families. The patient-family stroke education group has created a storyboard with pictures that explains the Stroke Alert process and is used by staff in both the pre-hospital and hospital setting.

What can you do? Learn the signs of a stroke, act FAST and call 911 immediately if you suspect someone is having a stroke. Use FAST to remember the warning signs:

Signs of a Stroke

Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?

Time: If you observe any of these signs, call 911 immediately.

Remember – time is brain tissue!  Learning the warning signs and acting FAST could save your life or the life of a loved one!

Danielle Lapierre of Essex Rescue and Mark Gorman, MD, neurologist and director of the Stroke Program at the UVM Medical Center, collaborated on this article. 

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