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Wisconsin Stroke Survivor: Know the Signs, Get a Physical

Every four minutes, stroke claims a life. Knowing the warning signs is important. (Siphotography/iStockPhoto.com)
Every four minutes, stroke claims a life. Knowing the warning signs is important. (Siphotography/iStockPhoto.com)
May 1, 2017

MADISON, Wis. – Not too long ago, insurance executive Scott Kowalski was driving from Green Bay to his home in Madison.

He went into his house and had a stroke, with absolutely no warning.

May is American Stroke Month. The American Stroke Association says stroke is the number two killer worldwide and number five in the U.S.

Kowalski says he's lucky to be alive and able to tell his story as a survivor. He says everyone should know the FAST acronym for recognizing stroke.

"F is face and A is arm, meaning your face can drop, one side or the other – numbness or paralysis in your arm,” he explains. “S is speech, so loss or confusion with your speech. And then T is time, so time is of the essence – you should be getting medical attention if you exhibit any of these."

Stroke is both a leading cause of long-term disability and the leading preventable cause of disability.

Nearly 800,000 people a year in the U.S. suffer a stroke, and high blood pressure is a leading risk factor for stroke.

The best way to avoid having a stroke is to not smoke, be active, eat a healthy diet, maintain a healthy body weight and control your cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar.

Kowalski says his case proves the point that most Americans don't even know if they're at risk for stroke.

His stroke came like a bolt out of the blue. He'd made a phone call, hung up the phone and suddenly realized his voice sounded strange.

"It was immediate onset with no warning,” he recalls. “I didn't suffer from dehydration. I didn't have any of the kind of typical characteristics that a lot of stroke victims will experience – not a smoker, didn't have high blood pressure, didn't have high cholesterol, didn't have a family history of stroke."

After his wife called for help and got him to the hospital, doctors discovered the cause, which, for Kowalski, was a small hole in his heart.

Kowalski made a full and complete recovery with no after effects, and he considers himself very lucky.

He says if the stroke had hit him five minutes before it actually happened, he would have been driving and very likely would now be dead. He urges everyone to get an annual physical.

"Under the new rules of health care, now it's a freebie to get an annual physical, and it's just amazing, it's shocking to me,” he states. “I always got a physical. Now I'd never miss, obviously, but it just does not make sense to not get a physical."

For more information on stroke and its warning signs, visit strokeassociation.org.


Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI