Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

F.A.S.T. – Recognizing A Stroke

While driving on a highway, a billboard (the old kind, not the Las Vegas flashing light kind), blared an attention-getting message in large, bold print. No pictures, just four large letters… F.A.S.T.

Fortunately for me, traffic was moving kind of slow at that time on Interstate 95 in Delaware, so I could at least make out that F.A.S.T. was not an advertisement, but a very important message. Below the letters, an explanation followed from the National Stroke Associaton. The message was to learn the symptoms of a stroke.

F = Face
A = Arms
S = Speech
T = Time, time to call 911

A stroke is when the brain is deprived of blood flow, either reduced or blocked, reducing much needed oxygen and food to the brain. And depending on which side of the brain that suffers the stroke, the opposite side of the body is affected. Now that you know what a stroke is, and most all of us know that a stroke is bad, let us get back to the message on the billboard.

Getting to the letters, and skipping right to the letter “T”, we are all told that time is the most important factor in dealing with someone who has had a stroke. My grandfather died following a stroke. That was back in 1966. Just two years ago, my stepmother suffered a small stroke. Fortunately for her, she was able to wake my father at 3am, and he realized that my stepmother was having a stroke and called 9-1-1. Then last year, following lung surgery, my father also suffered a stroke while in the hospital, but it was my brother and I who recognized it had happened. In the last two cases, time definitely played a factor in not only their survival, but recovery also.

With prompt recognition, proper medication can be administered to resolve the clotting issue that caused the stroke before the damage becomes too severe and irreparable. It is a huge mistake to underestimate your qualifications to recognize someone having a stroke. You do not need to have a medical degree to possibly save someone’s life. And the National Stroke Association could not have made it any easier than with four simple letters, and easy enough to remember. We discussed “T”. The first three letters are perhaps the most important as they are the most frequent and most noticeable symptoms of someone having a stroke.

F = Face

A stroke will often affect one side of the body. And the most visible part of the body to us, is a person’s face. Perhaps while having a conversation with someone, you might just notice the corner of the other person’s mouth drooping lower than the other corner (not to be mistaken for a frown). This is a noticeable droop. Perhaps the cheek area around the eye will also droop. You might happen to notice that depending on where you are standing, the person may not even see you or hear you (this was the case with my father as he could not see anything on his left side).

A = Arms

This should actually include legs, along with the arms, but again, the arms are the most visible appendage. Lack of use of only one arm, without any kind of injury to it, is symptomatic of a stroke.

S = Speech

A person having a stroke is likely to slur their speech. Provided there is no speech impediment or alcohol consumption, you cannot miss this sudden vocalization difficulty.

T = Time to call 9-1-1

You get the idea. Time is critical. My father’s stroke was not noticed by emergency personnel, but because my brother and I knew my father well enough, there were certain cognitive issues that we were able to question, and then F.A.S. became more noticeable. His neurologist was amazed that my dad would eventually recover from having had two strokes (one on the front and one on the rear, both on the right side). It was time that made the difference.


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