At our breakfast meeting on Wednesday we welcomed Dr. Jay Howington, who told us everything we needed to know about strokes, who is most vulnerable, and what to do if we suffer the symptoms. The latter is key; don't delay, call 911. The prompt call may save your life.


Dr.Howington told us that during his medical education he "fell in love with neurosurgery."  He now practices at the Neurological Institute of Savannah; he is an Associate Professor of Surgery and Radiology and the Stroke Program Medical Director at the Memorial Health University Center.  In his introduction and video presentation he indicated that of all the institutions where he studied and practiced, he has a distinct preference for the warmer climates; Savannah is now his home.  He also showed us pictures of two adorable young daughters.  But Dr. Howington was all business.

Stroke in the US affects >700,000 persons per year. It is the third leading cause of death and the leading cause of long-term disability. It costs $50 billion a year.  What causes it?  There are two kinds of stroke: Ischemic, which is caused by a blood clot that plugs a vessel or artery. Then there is the Hemorrhagic, where a blood vessel breaks and bleeds in the brain.  The warning signs are SUDDEN (a key word) numbness, weakness of the face, arm, or leg; confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech; trouble seeing; trouble walking, dizziness, difficulty with balance, coordination; severe headache with no known cause.  A stroke is a medical emergency: call 911.  Immediate treatment can protect the brain; a physician must evaluate and treat the patient within three hours, and the longer blood flow is impaired, the greater the chance of damage.  Clot busting drugs and devices can reduce brain damage.

Many of us present at the breakfast meeting are within the "most at risk" demographic by virtue of our age. Risk factors are: > age 65 years, males slightly more at risk than females although females are more likely to die, African-Americans have double the risk of other ethnic groups, and heredity may have a part to play for all of us.  Modifiable risk factors for stroke - yes, we've all heard them - high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, sedentary lifestyle, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, smoking, excessive alcohol, drug abuse.........we all know that we must try to avoid or remedy all these things.  Dr Howington went on to show us, in 'glorious technicolor,' what blocked arteries and damaged brains look like to the surgeon, and the steps taken to remedy the situation. He showed us how blood vessels are cleared, aneurisms reduced, brains treated against damage, stents inserted to keep blood flow unimpaired, until we began to feel this was a lesson in neurosurgery 101.

What must we do? This is another list we've heard often, from our doctors, our spouses, and maybe our children: monitor blood pressure, eat healthy food, control blood sugar levels, take medications, stop smoking.......and then Dr. Howington showed us detailed pictures of exactly how the remedial surgery was done - and every once in a while, there were those pictures of his daughters. A terrific presentation and a message to all of us.