CATES: May is Stroke Awareness MonthCarol Cates is the chief nursing officer at Odessa Regional Medical Center. You can reach her via e-mail at

In 2005, my father-in-law died from a stroke. It wasn’t his first stroke. In 6 months, he had two strokes. The first stroke took his independence, the second stroke took his life. Those two strokes took him from an active adult of 84 to a person who was completely dependent on the care of others and finally to the grave.
Before my father-in-law’s strokes I knew the statistics about stroke but I never really understood what those statistics meant. Now I know what they mean. The statistics are real people—just like my father-in-law—they aren’t just numbers. Before his first stroke, my father-in-law took out his boat and went fishing nearly every day, he lived by himself, he drove, and he travelled across Texas and the US to visit his kids and grandkids.
After his stroke, he was alert, but he couldn’t speak, and he couldn’t move at all on one side. Those changes didn’t happen over the course of hours or days, they happened over seconds. It was devastating to us as his family, but more so to him. He went from being the person who took care of everyone else to being completely dependent on others. For me, as a nurse, the worst part is I know if he had called 911 right away, his stroke probably could have been treated. But, he did what so many people do—he waited to see if it would get better on its own and didn’t tell anyone what was going on, he waited hours before calling 911. This is why stroke awareness is so important—strokes are very treatable, IF the person having a stroke or their loved ones seek medical attention quickly.
Normally, I talk about statistics, but today I am going to talk about real people. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) between 41.9 and 44.8 people per 100,000 died from stroke in Ector County between 2013 and 2015. Those are not numbers, those are our family, friends, and loved ones. I am pretty sure everyone reading this article knows someone in this community who has been impacted by stroke. Our stroke hospitalization rates are not much better.
Among those individuals who are over 65 and on Medicare, there were 18.3-19.9 people per 1000 hospitalized for stroke between 2013 and 2015 here in Ector County. The good news is, if people get to the hospital, we do a very good job of treating them here in Odessa. 87% of patients hospitalized in Ector County for stroke go home, and less than 4% die during their hospitalization. The remainder go on to rehabilitation, skilled nursing facilities, or other types of long-term care facility.
For most people, the difference between going home with few complications and not going home at all is when they seek treatment. Strokes are very treatable when a person seeks treatment early—generally within 3 hours of onset of symptoms. I can say with complete confidence every healthcare provider would much rather someone seek treatment within the 3 hour window and find out they are not having a stroke, than for them to wait to see if it goes away, and then find out treatment is going to be difficult if not impossible.
Don’t wait if you see symptoms. Seek treatment immediately! We have wonderful primary healthcare providers here in Odessa, but they do not have the resources to treat a stroke. Go to the Emergency Room! Better yet, go to a Certified Stroke Center—on of the reasons we have such good outcomes here in Odessa is both of our hospitals have Certified Stroke Centers.
The best thing you can do is call 911! Not only will they take you to a Certified Stroke Center, they can start treatment on the way to the hospital. Plus, it’s just safer than getting in a car in a high stress situation and driving yourself of someone you love. Our EMS providers at Odessa Fire Rescue are amazing, please take advantage of the skills of those fantastic men and women provide to emergent patients.
Know they symptoms of stroke and teach them to the people you love. The best way to remember is the word FAST. F—Face—sudden drooping of the face, particularly on one side. A—Arms—sudden numbness, tingling, or inability to move hands, arms, or legs on one side. S—Speech and Sight—sudden loss of speech, speech changes, or confusion, or sudden changes in sight, including vision loss. T—Time—Time to call 911, and what Time did the symptoms start. Please don’t let what happened to my father-in-law happen to you or someone you love. If you see any stroke symptoms, please don’t wait—call 911 and get treatment right away.