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Think F.A.S.T. – Warning Signs of Stroke: Lessons From the Loss of Dylan McKay

We all recall our coming-of-age crushes: the poster girl or boy who was our dream partner, who we fantasized about. Better yet were the icon super couple of the moment. Their love, devotion, and sometimes even the related drama, was the inspiration for which teenage girls strived in a relationship. In the 80s there was Frisco and Felicia…Crystal and Blake…Harry and Sally.  Those of us who came of age in the 90s were transfixed by one couple: Dylan and Brenda. Brenda was the girl we all wanted to be and Dylan was our dream man: brooding, loving, smart, good looking, and independent. 

It didn’t hurt that his portrayer was giving, kind, open, and so friendly. It made us feel like we all knew him. Luke Perry did not just portray our dream boyfriend – he became a friend to every teenage girl who was a fan. He was accessible and our contemporary.

So it’s understandably jarring to learn that, in a matter of days, we lost Luke Perry to a medical event that was sudden, quick, and fatal. He is our contemporary. Losing him is a warning to all of us.

A stroke is a cerebrovascular event that impacts the transportation of blood and oxygen to the brain. It could occur from a physical blockage, such as a blood clot, or from a brain bleed – a hemorrhage. The longer the brain does not receive the blood or oxygen that it needs, the higher the likelihood of brain damage or death. There is a direct relationship.

In instances of stroke, time is of the essence. The quicker medical help is achieved, the quicker that treatment is initiated, the more likely the impact of the stroke can be mitigated. Every minute matters – sometimes just the time it takes to drive to the hospital can make a difference. In some cases, the person suffering may be a candidate for a powerful treatment that dissolves the offending blood clot and improves blood flow immediately. This is called tPA and it must be administered within a certain window of time.

Every minute matters.

It’s important to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of a stroke to better be able to identify it and to get medical help more quickly.

A common test check is known as “FAST”:

Face: Do you see a sudden asymmetry? A facial droop? Smile to ascertain if one side of the mouth droops or appears weaker all of a sudden.

Arms: Is one arm suddenly weaker? Have the person raise both arms – if one arm begins dropping down, this is a warning sign. 

Speech: Is verbal speech suddenly slurring? Are strange words or jargon being produced suddenly?

Time: If any of the above signs are identified, realize that time is of the essence. Keep note of the timing of these symptoms and call 911/get help immediately.

A stroke is most likely to occur suddenly – and the symptoms occur just as quickly. Some other sudden symptoms that a stroke is occurring include:

  • Numbness/weakness on the face, arms, legs – typically on one side.
  • Difficulties moving extremities – usually on one side
  • Confusion or difficulties understanding 
  • Visual deficits in one or both eyes
  • Hearing loss
  • Imbalance, incoordination 
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Severe, debilitating headache or migraine
  • Loss of sensation 
  • Difficulties swallowing 

Learning the warning signs of a stroke and teaching them to other family members increases the possibility of earlier identification for quicker treatment. Consider wearing a medical warning bracelet if you have any related medical condition. Keep a list of medications on hand if possible. In this manner, medical professionals can be aware of your history immediately.

If you identify symptoms of a stroke, call 911 immediately. Do not try and get to the hospital yourself. You will lose time –  EMTs can begin treatment immediately. Make sure you are being brought to a stroke center. Hospitals that are stroke centers have set protocols and more facilities for time sensitive treatment procedures that increase the possibility for recovery. 

The sudden, tragic and heartbreaking loss of Luke Perry leaves with us all with a new sense of mortality.   Acting F.A.S.T. to identify symptoms and seek medical attention immediately can save lives and improve outcomes. Getting emergency medical treatment as quickly as possible is the key to survival from a stroke. 

Long Live “Dylan and Brenda”

Written by New York Speech and Hearing

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