Patients, providers and many others cheered two years ago when stroke fell in the ranks to the number five killer nationwide. But the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control suggest that our work is far from over, because stroke deaths have increased since then — making it more important than ever to understand and fight stroke.

Beating the odds

Twenty more people are dying from stroke every day. Those people are mothers and fathers, grandparents, our coworkers, neighbors and, yes, even kids.

Lilian Tsi Stielstra could’ve been one of those statistics. The San Francisco mom had a stroke six months after she was diagnosed with high blood pressure, a leading risk factor for strokes and heart attacks. High cholesterol, high triglycerides and being overweight with a stressful, sedentary lifestyle added to her risk.

Luckily, Lilian got to the hospital fast. And, when she returned home, she didn’t return to her old lifestyle. She showed that stroke really can be treatable and beatable.

Changing the landscape

American Stroke Month in May gives us an important opportunity to join together to prevent, treat and beat the number five killer in the United States. Across the country, people of all ages are learning and sharing FAST — the stroke warning signs that include Face drooping; Arm weakness; Speech difficulty; Time to call 911 — while many EMS agencies, hospitals and others are organizing Stroke Simulations to ensure patients get the best, coordinated stroke care from the moment 911 is activated.

“...many of our activities may be invisible to consumers, working seamlessly when people need them the most.”

This is a time of great change in the field of stroke and vascular neurology. Many severe stroke patients once destined for a life of disability are recovering with little or no disability, thanks to swift treatment with a clot buster drugs and medical devices called stent retrievers.

Technology is also changing stroke rehabilitation and recovery. We’re eagerly waiting to see what’s next for helping stroke survivors return to their daily activities. And, of course, thanks to research, our blueprint for identifying risk factors, optimizing health and preventing stroke is getting clearer every day. 

Working tirelessly

You see some of our efforts from the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association — for example, a PSA campaign or a news article — but many of our activities may be invisible to consumers, working seamlessly when people need them the most.

We help health care professionals translate guidelines into practice, educate consumers about their risk factors and press on with our advocacy efforts to extend the use of stroke systems of care designations and access to telemedicine.

In May, we celebrate these wins and work tirelessly for more throughout the year, celebrating Lilian and thousands like her. Since her stroke, Lilian cut down on stress and started finding time for fitness, eventually running four miles a day. She reduced sugar, put more vegetables and grains on her plate and dropped 25 pounds. More importantly, she learned to prioritize her health. And that means more success stories and more time at the dinner table with loved ones — successes we can all celebrate.