Stroke Smart Magazine
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Stroke is color-blind
Native American Women Too
Dorita deLemos Down once traveled the western hemisphere, advising and
consulting international organizations about economic development. She was a
75-year-old, slim and healthy Hispanic American. Yet she somehow knew what was
happening on that fateful day when her entire left side, including her tongue,
became numb. It was a stroke. Although she does recall that she did not fit the
profile of a typical stroke survivor.
Strokes are the
third leading cause of death in U.S. after cancer and heart disease. They are a
leading cause of permanent, long-term disability and kill twice as many women
as breast cancer each year. However, most women are not aware of their stroke
Each year 795,000
people in the U.S. suffer a stroke, on average, one every 45 seconds. A stroke
is sometimes called a “brain attack.” A
stroke happens when part of the brain does not get the blood it needs, due to a
clot or blockage in an artery or blood vessel. Strokes can kill brain cells,
which can cause a person to lose control of their speech, movement and memory.
Someone who has a small stroke might experience only minor problems such as
weakness of an arm or leg. People who have larger strokes might be paralyzed on
one side or lose their ability to speak. Some people recover completely from
strokes, but more than two-thirds of survivors do not.
“When I awoke out of
my three-day coma, I couldn’t talk at all and my left side, my dominant side,
was completely lost, paralyzed,” says Rebekah Donnithorne, 30, a Korean
American. “It had never crossed my mind
that I could have a stroke, especially at just 24 years old.” Donnithorne had been diagnosed one month
prior to her stroke with a congenital brain abnormality. While in the hospital
undergoing a nonsurgical removal procedure, she suffered a hemorrhagic stroke.
She is one of the many stroke sufferers who do not fit into the traditionally
high-risk groups with certain lifestyles.
Six years later,
Donnithorne has had to learn to use her right hand to write, still walks with a
fairly noticeable limp and feels she has lost many of her speech and writing
skills, as well as much of her creativity.
“I can’t dance, run or lift heavy things. It took me two years to be
able to write well enough to finish my college degree,” she says. Donnithorne
has put her studies on hold, preferring to volunteer at the Rocky Mountain
Stroke Center, a nonprofit association that provides support and education to
stroke sufferers. “The Center has been a
source of life for me since my stroke,” she explains. “They have given me a place to heal and to
start again, and a platform to stand on. Now I want to give back to them.”
more women than men suffer from stroke each year — some 425,000 women. In addition,
women in Hispanic and other minority groups are one and one-half times more at
risk of first-ever strokes than Caucasians.
The risks, signs and
symptoms of stroke in most minority communities are still somewhat “in the
closet,” claims deLemos Down. That is why, after surviving her stroke, deLemos
Down became a cofounder of the Maryland-based organization Circle of Rights,
which teaches and informs minority populations about stroke prevention, signs
and symptoms and recovery.
Some risk factors
for stroke include: family history, high blood pressure, high cholesterol,
smoking, diabetes, sudden and severe headache with no known cause, being
overweight and lack of exercise. However women have specific risk factors, such
- Use of birth control pills and
- Use of hormone
- Thick waistlines
In addition to having unique stroke risk factors, women also sometimes report unique stroke
symptoms such as sudden:
- Face and limb pain
- General weakness
- Chest pain
- Shortness of
Strokes can occur at
any age. More than a quarter of stroke sufferers are under 65. In fact,
Donnithorne, who suffered her stroke at age 24, works with a younger stroke
survivor support group, designed for people ranging from 20 to 50 years old.
Strokes can affect
anyone, so the best prevention is to be aware of the risk factors and to try to
manage them. Rehabilitation from stroke is a lifelong journey. Although
difficult, like all changes, it can be viewed as a new beginning versus a time
when we lose everything. Hopefully with more awareness, more strokes can be
Strokes by the
disease, including both heart disease and stroke, is the leading cause of death
for Hispanic women. Stroke is the third leading cause of death for Hispanic
women. In fact, 33 percent of all deaths in Hispanic women are due to stroke,
according to the website womenshealth.gov. Studies show that Hispanics suffer
from strokes at a much earlier age than Caucasians. The average age for all
strokes among Hispanics is 67, compared to 80 for Caucasians. Medical
conditions frequently seen in Hispanics, such as prediabetes, diabetes, high
blood pressure and obesity, are known risk factors for stroke. Up to 30 percent
of the Hispanic population has type 2 diabetes, and up to half of these cases
are untreated because people do not realize that they have the disease.
Asian-American women have much lower rates of heart disease than other
populations. However, “Stroke is color
blind,” points out Donnithorne. The good news for Asian Americans is that they
are less likely than Caucasians to suffer strokes and they are less likely to
die from them, probably because this population group tends to have fewer risk
factors for stroke. Asian Americans, sometimes called the “healthy minority” have the highest life
expectancy of any group in the U.S. According to the Center for Disease
Control’s 2009 Report on Minority Health, only 87.3 Asian women per
100,000 die from heart disease, while 160.9 Caucasians out of 100,000 die from
heart disease in the U.S.
are generally less likely to have high blood pressure than other groups. In
general, Asian-American adults have lower rates of being overweight or obese
and lower rates of hypertension. They also are less likely to be current
cigarette smokers. Yet significantly high levels of heart disease are seen
among Filipino Americans. Even though Asian-American women have fewer risk
factors, Donnithorne stresses that it is important they know the risks and the
signs of a stroke.
Alaskan-Native women are twice as likely as Caucasian women to have a stroke.
Many people in the community lack good health. In fact about one in five
American Indians and Alaskan natives has two or more chronic, lifestyle-related
health problems such as: diabetes, obesity, smoking, chronic liver disease,
cirrhosis and injury.
While the Indian
Health Service (IHS) provides limited healthcare to American Indians and Alaska
Natives, more than four out of 10 Indians have no access to IHS because of
their isolated living conditions on reservations. People of all ethnicities,
age and gender need to understand and heed stroke warning signs.
Irene Thomas is
a freelance writer for many publications. Before writing this story she, too,
did not realize that so many women in the U.S. are affected by stroke and are
at risk of having a stroke. She hopes readers will take heed and make the
recommended changes in their lifestyles.
and stroke info:
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