By Stephen K. Peeples 
May is National Stroke Awareness Month, but the stroke treatment team at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital is out to boost awareness every month, through its support group meetings for stroke patients, survivors, families and caregivers on the second Wednesday of each month.
Henry Mayo’s next Stroke and Brain Injury Support Group get-together is this Wednesday, March 13, from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. in the ARU dining room in the Pavilion at 25727 McBean Parkway, Valencia 91355 . Admission is free.
Stroke statistics are startling. It ranks No. 4 on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Top 10 leading causes of death  as of 2010, the latest complete figures available (heart disease, cancer and chronic lower respiratory diseases are the Top 3;accidental death is No. 5).
A new or recurrent stroke strikes about 700,000 people each year, or an average of one victim every 45 seconds. Every 3.1 minutes, a stroke victim dies. For those who live – there are an estimated 4.7 million survivors – stroke is a major cause of long-term disability. The National Stroke Association notes that the risk of stroke doubles every decade after age 55.
Causes of Stroke
A stroke is caused by either a blood clot or a burst blood vessel in the brain, so the health of one’s cardiovascular system is directly involved.
Blood clots are often caused by plaque that built up on heart and blood vessel walls over time, often due to unhealthy eating habits. If pieces of plaque break free and get swept into the bloodstream, they can quickly or eventually clog up a blood vessel or worse, cause one to burst.
If either happens in the heart, it’s a heart attack; if they happen in the brain, it’s a stroke. Proper diet and exercise are essential to preventing both.
Shannon Smith, the stroke navigator at Henry Mayo who guides and follows stroke and brain injury patients at the hospital from admission to discharge and post-discharge, says most stroke patients suffer from the first-mentioned problem – some kind of blockage of blood flow to the brain.
“An ischemic stroke occurs when blood vessels to the brain become narrowed or clogged, and then the blood flow is cut off to those brain cells, and the brain cells die," Smith said. "Once these brain cells are dead, different things that our brains do, different functions, are affected, such as speech, or our personality or the way we walk, for example.
"A hemorrhagic stroke accounts for approximately 13 percent of our strokes, and this is when a blood vessel actually ruptures in or near the brain, inside of the brain or on the surface of the brain," she said. "They both can be very serious, but I would say the hemorrhagic stroke is often fatal."
Symptoms can include facial numbness or weakness; numbness on one side of the body; confusion; problems with speech, vision, coordination, or the ability to walk; and/or a severe headache that strikes suddenly for some unknown reason.
Smith says the best way to tell if you or someone close to you might be having a stroke is by doing what she called a "F.A.S.T. assessment." Acting “F.A.S.T.” helps improve the odds of survival and recovery.
"It's a quick screen," she said. "You just think of the 'F' is face; if you think someone is having a stroke, you ask them to smile. If they have a droop when they smile, that could be the sign of a stroke.
"'A' is for arms; you ask the person to hold their arms out in front of them. If there's a droop downward, that could be a stroke.
"'S' is for speech; if you think that maybe the speech sounds funny, then ask the person to repeat a sentence after you. If their speech is slurred or maybe they look like they want to say something, but they can't get it out, that could be a stroke.
"And 'T' is for time; we have a three-hour window," Smith said. "We have medicines that, if the patient is eligible, might help get rid of that clot, or melt it down, rather, and then this could help reduce the permanent disability from stroke."
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Henry Mayo Certified As An Advanced Primary Stroke Center
Henry Mayo has upgraded its program of stroke treatment resources and services in the last few years, said Smith, whose stroke navigator duties also include making sure the hospital's program meets or exceeds national standards.
The program earned certification as an Advanced Primary Stroke Center from the hospital industry's Joint Commission accrediting agency in March 2010 and recertification in June 2012.
"What that means is that according to what the Joint Commission asks for us in our best practice guidelines, we have met everything at a 'meets' or 'above and beyond,'" Smith said.
Henry Mayo's stroke program has also been recognized with bronze and silver awards from the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association, and Smith says the hospital has applied for the gold award.
"It's based on different quality indicators," she said. "We have to meet those at 80 percent or better, and that's what we try to do. We focus on areas where we could use improvement, and then we work as a team all year long to improve those so we can shine and get greater care going out to the patients."
Henry Mayo's stroke team is interdisciplinary. "We have different disciplines within the hospital come in, and we try to get together and look at all of the data and different issues so we can find the solution and improve our care," she said.
"That team consists of the executive director, a physician, a nurse, and our stroke unit director. We have our physician champion, which is our neurologist, Dr. Schultz. We also have different people, such as our physical therapy department, participate so we can reach the best outcome for the patient," she said.
Monthly Group Support Meetings
At the monthly group support meetings for patients and caregivers, Smith and the stroke staff look at a variety of relevant topics, including resources for patients and for caregivers, information about heart health, proper diet, medication therapies, speech and physical therapy issues, dealing with stress, and enjoying life after a stroke,
"We [handle] all kinds of issues," Smith said. "Whatever our group members come there and tell us, 'Hey, we'd like to hear about this,' we try to incorporate in the next year's program. So, if we're going to talk about adult daycares, there are different things out there like the Senior Center that people don't know about, and so that's what we focus on."
More Community Outreach
Smith said the Henry Mayo stroke team is a major player in the quarterly health fairs the hospital hosts to reach out to members of our community. The last one was in mid-February and the next one is tentatively slated for late April or early May.
"I always participate in that for the stroke program," Smith said. "We just try to educate as many people about the 'F.A.S.T.' assessment. That way they know there are things we can do now for stroke, and to come right away as soon as possible to the hospital.
"We also have different fairs," she said. "We recently had a cardiovascular services fair, where we had a booth and we taught the community and staff about stroke. We have different things at College of the Canyons and we were out at the industrial park recently. So we do several community events to try to bring more stroke awareness to the community in addition to our monthly support group."
Meeting Directions & More Info
Click here for a map  to the Pavilion — which located on the Henry Mayo campus.
For more information about Henry Mayo’s stroke program and support group, call 661-253-8651. Find out more about the hospital from its website at www.henrymayo.com .
•Article: Henry Mayo On ‘F.A.S.T.’ Track To Boost Stroke Awareness In The Santa Clarita Valley 
•Source: Health and Beauty 
•Author: Stephen K. Peeples