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EVERY SECOND COUNTS: Many in rural Louisiana miles away from life saving stroke care

Published: May. 12, 2021 at 8:26 AM CDT|Updated: May. 12, 2021 at 3:16 PM CDT
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ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - According to Rapides Regional Medical Center, about 800,000 people suffer from strokes in the U.S. each year. Stroke death rates in Central Louisiana are higher than the national average.

Cynthia Cimini, stroke coordinator at Rapides Regional, said many life choices increase stroke risk.

“If you have high blood pressure, the risk of having a stroke is like double that if you don’t,” Cimini said. “Atrial fibrillation is a fast heartbeat. You’re five times more likely to have a stroke if you have that risk factor. Also, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, obesity, and lack of physical activity.”

Many stroke victims experience brain damage because of the condition.

“It is a lack of blood supply and a part of the brain. If caused by a blood clot or one of the arteries, it’s called an ischemic stroke. If it’s caused by a blood vessel that is actually ruptured, and that is called a hemorrhagic stroke.”

Cimini said each second counts when treating patients because the lack of blood targets brain cells.

“1.9 million brain cells are dying every minute when you’re having a stroke. So the quicker you get treatment, whether it be with a clot-busting drug or actually having that clot removed, then that is going to help.”

Access to quick treatment isn’t a reality for many-- especially those in rural Louisiana. Kaiser Health News found 19% of the people in the state live more than a 45-minute drive from a certified stroke center. Also, Kaiser Health News reports less than half of the state’s population live with 45 minutes of a hospital with the most advanced levels of stroke certification.

Cimini said calling 911 and getting paramedics to stroke patients quickly could be the difference between life and death.

“So we want everyone to call 911 call for an ambulance because an ambulance is not just a fast ride,” she said. “They are actually treating, they’re assessing the patient and they let us know what they find so that we can be ready, and we set up the door as soon as they arrive to help treatment.”

The hospital said many stroke victims arrive at the hospital by private vehicle. They advise an ambulance is the best choice of action because the treatment can begin before a patient arrives at the hospital doors.

Cimini would also like to see more people seek care and learn more about strokes. She said many preventative measures can be taken to lower stroke risk.

Throughout the pandemic, Cimini said stroke calls declined. She said many did not seek care until days later leaving behind irreversible brain damage.

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