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Highlighting Your Health: Stroke survivors support group offers comfort through shared experiences

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Gloria Person, Theresa Meetze and Jacob Meetze, from left, make a plate at the Stroke Support Network Cook-Out on May 9.

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By Vidant Health Communications

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Like the 20 or so other attendees at Vidant Medical Center’s annual Stroke Support Network Cook-Out, Theresa and Jacob Meetze were just thankful to be there.

It wasn’t the catered food, fresh fruits and vegetables or even the cake that made them thankful. It was remembering where they were a little over a year ago — Theresa in an ambulance and husband Jacob frantically trying to catch up as they sped towards VMC, which is the only Comprehensive Stroke Center in the region.

That was Jan. 23, 2018, a morning that started off not unlike others. Theresa, 59, was getting ready to leave for her job as a Veterans Affairs nurse in Greenville. But something felt off. Her right side felt numb and she knew something wrong. Jacob took one look at her and knew what was happening — Theresa was having a stroke.

It all happened so quickly. One minute Theresa was going through her morning routine and the next she was lying in a VMC hospital bed having just received a life-saving procedure.

“Everything sort of fell right into place,” Theresa said at the May 9 cookout. “Another 10 or 15 minutes and I would have been driving into work. I don’t know what I would have done if it happened on the drive. I am thankful things happened the way they did and that we can be here today.”

The Meetze’s story is an unfortunately common one, as stroke is a leading cause of death in eastern North Carolina. In fact, about 90 percent of the counties served by Vidant have a stroke death rate higher than the national average.

But knowing the signs and acting quickly can be the difference between life and death. Theresa’s training as a nurse tipped her off that something was wrong almost immediately and Jacob knew that numbness on her side, loss of balance and her struggle to speak were all signs.

The best way to learn the signs of a stroke is to remember the acronym “BE FAST,” balance, eyes, face, arm, speech and time; and always call 9-1-1 first. It’s especially important to know the signs if you or a loved one are at risk, particularly when it comes to having high cholesterol or smoking.

“We can’t stress the importance of knowing these signs enough,” Ashley Elks, director of stroke and neurosciences at VMC, said. “So many of the survivors and their loved ones who came out to the cook-out can testify to that because you see how it helped them. We are grateful that their quick action allowed our care team to effectively treat them.”

Though stroke is one of the most prevalent diseases in our region, everyone’s experiences can differ. The recovery process is different for each patient. Some never fully regain control of their bodies while others are able to return back to their normal selves.

That is why groups like the Stroke Survivor Network are so important. The shared experience of having suffered a stroke can help provide a sense of comfort and community. That, ultimately, is what compelled former Stroke Coordinator Marie Welch to start the group 27 years ago.

“I am grateful that the group has continued and that people continue to benefit from it,” Welch, who has since retired but still attends the Cook-Out to help out, said.

To learn more about stroke and the resources available, visit vidanthealth.com/Services-Treatments/Conditions/Stroke or call 1-855-MyVidant.

Highlighting Your Health is an educational segment courtesy of Vidant Health that appears twice a month in The Daily Reflector. Vidant is a mission-driven, 1,504-bed health system that annually serves more than 1.4 million people in 29 eastern North Carolina counties. As a major resource for health services and education, Vidant’s mission is to improve the health and well-being of eastern North Carolina.

NEED TO KNOW

1. A stroke occurs when oxygen-rich blood cells are blocked from reaching the brain. Once this happens, brain cells can start to die.

2. According to the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, on average, someone suffers a stroke every 40 seconds; someone dies of a stroke every four minutes; and 795,000 people suffer a new or recurrent stroke each year.

3. Major risk factors for stroke include high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and smoking.

4. Knowing the signs — “BE FAST” — and getting screened can save your life. If you suspect that you or a loved one has suffered a stroke, call 9-1-1 immediately.

5. Know your numbers. Regular checkups with your primary care provider can help you better understand if you are at-risk for a stroke.

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