Stroke support group helps survivors at Aurora BayCare Medical Center

Posted at 10:41 PM, May 31, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-31 23:41:49-04

May is Stroke Awareness Month. Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S., and the leading cause of long-term disability. Recovery can take months or even years, but many patients who are dealing with frustration, depression, and anxiety are finding emotional support, education, and resources through Aurora BayCare Medical Center's Stroke Support Group. It was extremely beneficial for James Falkowski.

"You realize that you're not alone, and there are other people doing this, and you put a perspective that maybe life isn't so bad," he explains.

Falkowski says his symptoms came on slowly over time which made it difficult to self diagnose. "I noticed that my speech was affected, my hearing, my cognitive ability to understand the spoken word." 

"He also had some dizziness with it, also had some numbness too," added his neurologist, Dr. James Napier.

Dr. Napier says you should look for the symptoms of a stroke by using the acronym F.A.S.T. 

F - Face (Ask a person to smile. Does one side of the face sag or droop?)

A - Arms (Ask a person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?)

S - Speech (Ask the person to repeat a single sentence. Does the speech sound slurred or strange?)

T - Time (Seconds matter. Call 911 or get to the nearest primary stroke center or hospital.)

Dr. Napier says there are two types of strokes. "One are hemorrhagic where there's a blood vessel that breaks. The most common type though is the blood vessel becomes plugged up." That's called an ischemic stroke. It's the type Falkowski suffered. Dr. Napier says he did the right thing by going to the emergency room to receive life-saving treatment. 

"I don't mind getting up in the middle of the night anymore when you see all these great results that you can get from patients that have their lives given back to them." 

Falkowski is a Manitowoc County Board supervisor who is grateful that he's still able to serve his community, especially after suffering a second stroke. Years later, though, he still struggles with processing and communicating his thoughts. 

"I'm in a situation where I do have to compose and articulate things, and it is hard. It's just maddening to do it and to do it on cue." 

They're feelings he shared with other patients in the Stroke Survivor Support Group at Aurora BayCare Medical Center. Falkowski benefited so much from the group, he now serves as a volunteer in the hospital's 1-on-1 stroke mentorship program to help other survivors. 
"I'll be very candid, kind of like a stroke whisperer," he chuckled.
Falkowski shares a timeline of what survivors can expect in recovery, and how they can cope with changes in function long-term. He hopes to give patients numerous things. "Movement, direction, purpose," and the realization that if he can improve, they can too.
"My hats off to people like Jim, that give the time that they've had and experience they've had," said Dr. Napier.
He believes a hole in Falkowski's heart caused his strokes, but for most of us, you can help prevent one by eating healthy, exercising, and keeping your blood pressure and blood sugar under control.