Sharon Russell, who lost both her parents to complications of strokes, is proactive about lowering her chances of having a stroke.

“My siblings think I’m paranoid, but I don’t want to risk it,” says Russell, who has a vegetarian diet, walks daily and gets regular checkups.

Russell’s mother, at 40, died suddenly after a stroke. Russell’s father gradually became more disabled after suffering a stroke, and died at 72. Russell said her parents avoided visits to the doctor. Her father, she said, didn’t want his family to know he was ill.

Russell, who is from the South Side, attended a recent seminar on strokes at Rush University Medical Center and learn to Act FAST if she or someone else has a stroke. The acronym in the National Stroke Association’s slogan refers to monitoring facial expressions, arm movements and speech. But the T, which stands for time, may be the most important part – time to call 911.

Laura Vaught, a nurse and stroke screener who helped with the seminar, described common symptoms to watch for. If someone’s face and arms show a weak side and speech is slurred, chances are the person is suffering from a stroke.

“If you can get someone within the first three hours, you can help reverse the damage,” Vaught said, referring to treatment.

Time is critical. The sooner doctors treat symptoms of a stroke, the likelier it is that the person will make a full recovery.

Stroke is the third leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer and the leading cause of serious long-term disability. The American Heart Association reports that, in a year, more than 700,000 Americans have a stroke and that as many as 160,000 people die from it.

Vaught said people should know the risk factors, which include hypertension, smoking, diabetes and high cholesterol. Vaught advises people to quit smoking, exercise and eat healthy.

Some risk factors that people cannot control but should take into account include age, race, sex and family history. The risk increases with age, and post-menopausal women are more likely to have a stroke than men.

Lee said every minute a stroke victim goes untreated reduces the chances to prevent permanent damage. If someone is having a stroke, she said it’s important to track the time the symptoms first occur.

“A stroke is a brain attack!” Lee said. People need to treat stroke with urgency, just as they would a heart attack.

“Don’t call your doctor, your friend or wait for a loved one to get home from work,” Lee said.

“People shouldn’t second-guess themselves,” said Jozanne Floyd, after attending the seminar. The West Side resident doesn’t know anyone personally who has been affected by stroke but says it’s important to be knowledgeable.

Juanita Wood, 70, said she came to the seminar for her family’s sake. She thinks her brother had a stroke two weeks ago. His hand is now paralyzed. The Hyde Park resident is the family caregiver.

“If I can’t take care of myself, I cannot take care of anyone else,” Wood said.


  • Face – Does one side of the face droop?
  • Arms – Does an arm drift downward?
  • Speech – Does speech sound slurred?
  • Time – Time to call 911.

Things you can do to reduce your risk of a stroke:

  • Stop smoking
  • Exercise
  • Eat healthy
  • Go to doctor regularly
  • Control your blood pressure
  • Control your cholesterol