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Sneaky symptoms of stroke

Posted: April 1, 2010 10:59 p.m.
Updated: April 2, 2010 4:30 a.m.

David Hamm, of Canyon Country, 69, suffered a stroke in early March and was driven to the emergency room at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital in Valencia the morning after he developed symptoms. Here, Hamm holds a F.A.S.T. card distributed to the community by the hospital, which promotes the key facets of determining if a person has had a str...

It started off just like any other night for David Hamm, 69, of Canyon Country.

He was enjoying dinner and conversation with his wife, Joyce, when his speech started to slur. Then he got up from his chair and stumbled slightly.

Though concerned, Hamm went to bed hoping whatever was bothering him would cease in the morning. It didn’t.

“My speech was worse and my face was drooping on one side,” Hamm said.

The Hamms drove to the emergency department at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, where their suspicions were confirmed. Hamm was having a stroke.

Stroke, the third-leading cause of death in the United States, occurs when blood flow is interrupted to the brain.

Approximately 700,000 Americans experience a new or recurrent stroke every year — an average of a stroke every 45 seconds. Fatal strokes occur every 3.1 minutes.

The warning signs of stroke include sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body, sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding, sudden trouble seeing out of one or both eyes, sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination, or sudden, severe headache with no attributable cause.

According to the National Stroke Association, a stroke can happen to anyone, but after the age of 55, the risk of suffering a stroke doubles with every decade.

While many survive, stroke is the leading cause of serious, long-term disability in the nation, with about 4.7 million stroke survivors alive today.

Hamm, a retired aerospace manager, is one of the lucky ones.

Though his stroke occurred less than a month ago, he is walking, talking, and smiling, if a slight bit lopsided.

“I’ve still got a few things going on. The longer I talk or the day goes on, I slur. It’s worse at night,” Hamm said. “It was explained to me that I had a blood clot that went to my brain and hit something. It could’ve have been much worse.”

Yes it could have, agreed Dr. Mark C. Schultz, M.D. and medical director of Newhall Memorial’s neurology department and Advanced Primary Care Stroke Center.

“The recommendation is that if you have any stroke symptoms that go on for five minutes or more, call the paramedics. We have treatments that open arteries and can reverse damage, but time is of the essence,” Schultz said. “The sooner you come in, the sooner you receive treatment, the better your chances are at returning to a good quality of life.”

Newhall Memorial’s stroke center was awarded the gold seal of approval from The Joint Commission for Primary Stroke Centers on March 9.

The Joint Commission launched the certification process, the nation’s first, in 2003, based on recommendations for primary stroke centers published by the Brain Attack Coalition and the American Stroke Association’s statements/guidelines for stroke care.
Newhall Memorial is one of 13 hospital private hospitals in Los Angeles to have achieved the advanced primary stroke center designation. The hospital’s stroke team, comprising more than two dozen physicians, nurses, and clinical staff members, worked together closely since November to meet the eight quality measurements required for the certification.

According to Gail Oliphant, RN and quality liaison for the team, the team’s biggest cheerleader was Roger Seaver, Newhall Memorial’s president and CEO.

“Los Angeles County started a program that would have required diverting patients to the closest primary stroke center and he (Seaver) felt strongly about having Santa Clarita Valley patients diverted, about how that transport time would have affected them. He wanted stroke care available right here in the community,” Oliphant said.

Educating the public on stroke and its symptoms is a goal of the stroke team.
The hospital is distributing free blue and white F.A.S.T. quick screen assessment cards and posters in the community to help people determine if their family or friends are potentially having a stroke and to act as quickly as possible.

“They need to look at the face, have the person smile, and see if there is any droopiness. Then have the person put their arms out to see if there’s any weakness in the arms. Then have the person talk and ask them a question to determine any presence of slurring or confusion. If any of these symptoms are present, then it’s time to call 911 or the paramedics right away,” Schultz said.

Once Hamm made it to the emergency room, a CAT scan, MRI and echo cardiogram were performed to determine any damage.

“They told me when I went in that my blood pressure was high, but I don’t remember being scared,” Hamm said. “I didn’t feel a thing or see anything, it was just all of sudden, when I talked, my speech was slurred.”

His wife was not so calm.

“I was petrified,” said Joyce Hamm. “Thank goodness the hospital was so close by.”

Hamm stayed at Newhall Memorial overnight and was ultimately discharged with instructions to reduce his sodium and take adult aspirin, plus a prescription for medication to lower his cholesterol.

Before the stroke, Hamm said he regularly rode his bicycle for four miles at a time and hadn’t been admitted to a hospital since he was 12 years old to have his tonsils removed.

The only obvious factor in Hamm’s stroke was his age, as Schultz illustrated.

“Age is a risk, but stroke doesn’t appear to have any obvious relation to gender or race. Smoking is a big risk factor for stroke, so we emphasize smoking cessation as part of stroke rehabilitation,” Schultz said.

“A healthy diet and regular exercise is very important for overall health and can reduce the chances of a person having a stroke,” Schultz continued.

As a father of three and grandfather of seven, Hamm, who celebrated 45 years of marriage with Joyce on March 19, is looking forward to resuming every bit of his formerly active lifestyle.

“I mowed both my lawns yesterday,” he said. “And I’m going to get back on that bike.”

For more information on stroke and F.A.S.T., visit or



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