Lawnae Hunter was careening down a twisty waterslide on the remote island of Turks and Caicos when her stroke hit.
Hunter says it didn't register that it was a stroke making her unable to breathe, but when her son approached her and saw one side of her face drooping, she says he knew right away. Hunter says the hospital on the island didn't treat strokes, meaning the facility wasn't able to administer tissue plasminogen activator—an IV therapy that can dissolve clots during an acute ischemic stroke.
Hunter found herself on a flight to Florida to get treatment, and later, to Stanford University Medical Center for ongoing treatment and rehabilitation. Hunter's stroke was caused by a benign tumor in her brain. Three years later, Hunter hasn't fully recovered. Her left arm is immobile. Stairs are a challenge. A cane helps her stay stable. Would she have been able to receive "the shot," Hunter believes her recovery could have been days, not years, as has been the case. Still, she says she's grateful for the mobility she does have, knowing the outlook can be much worse for some stroke survivors.
Hunter's experience opened her eyes to the efficacy of that treatment. According to the American Stroke Association, TPA "can save lives and reduce the long-term effects of stroke." Armed with this knowledge, Hunter has found herself on a mission to educate local people, and to offer support and resources not previously available in Central Oregon through the new nonprofit, Stroke Awareness Oregon.
One key component in recovery, Hunter now knows, is administering treatment as quickly as possible—a message loudly proclaimed by that nonprofit she helped co-found. It's a message also shared by the ASA.
"Many people miss this key brain-saving treatment because they don't arrive at the hospital in time for alteplase treatment, which is why it's so important to identify a stroke and seek treatment immediately for the best possible chance at a full recovery," the ASA website states.
At Stroke Awareness Oregon, educating the public takes the form of presentations at local schools and other agencies. The group has a presentation planned April 10. In addition to the educational component, SAO is committed to purchasing Pulsara technology, a mobile system, according to the product website, aimed at making communication between EMTs and hospital teams more efficient. It's a technology available at numerous regional hospitals, Hunter says, including Eugene, though St. Charles does not currently offer it, she says.
Another mission of SAO: sharing information and resources among stroke sufferers, in the interest of having the most efficient, effective rehabilitation experience possible.
"I got really interested in the whole subject of stroke prevention, stroke rehab, reintegrating, getting people like me back to a normal life—if they want to go back to work, what does it take? The problem with stroke is, it is looked at as an old people disease," Hunter said.
"We don't put a lot of research as a society into recovery for stroke patients, because they represent such a small percentage of the population and they tend to be old. If the average person was 30, you would see a lot more research."
Hunter also takes part in a stroke support group, put on by St. Charles Medical Center. She's also teamed up with neurologists and other medical professionals at St. Charles, inviting them to assist in the development of the nonprofit.
When I met with Hunter, a real estate professional who owns Plus Property Management in Bend, Redmond and several cities in California, she was reticent to make this story about her and her journey, instead recommending I sing the praises of local neurologist Dr. Steven Goins, neurosurgeon Dr. Raymond Tien and others who she says bring the actual expertise and action to the issue of stroke awareness. (Consider that done, Lawnae!)
Still, sometimes it takes a layperson—someone personally affected by events such as stroke—to bring the passion that spreads the information outside the medical sphere. They've been through it and can offer insider information that even the most educated doctors might not know. One of those bits of information, in Hunter's case, is knowing the grit it requires to handle both the recovery, and the subsequent information sharing she's now doing.
"If you're not really tough, you're not going to make it," Hunter said. "I'm pretty tough, and so are some of my stroke surviving friends. But what I knew was, we needed to prevent strokes."