What to do when someone suffers a stroke

Nabeelah Mohedeen

Stroke is the third leading cause of death in South Africa, after a heart attack and cancer. This is according to Helping Hands’ first aid instructor Samantha Adams.

On Saturday January 23, Helping Hands, a non-profit organisation which works towards improving the lives of disadvantaged and disabled children, together with Athlone Pharmacy, hosted a workshop at Athlone library where the topic was “What to do if someone has a stroke.”

Ms Adams started the workshop by explaining what a stroke is.

“A stroke occurs when a portion of the brain is starved of oxygen due to a burst blood vessel or clot blocking a blood vessel in the brain. The lack of oxygen can cause brain damage and depending on which side of the brain the stroke occurred, the opposite side of the body will be affected,” said Ms Adams.

The “golden hour” as referred to by medical workers, is the hour most critical to the stroke patient. The hour starts from the time the stroke has occurred until the patient receives medication which can lessen the damage to the brain cells, at the hospital.

There are two types of strokes: the ischemic stroke and the hemorrhagic stroke.

About 80% of patients suffer from ischemic strokes.

This occurs when the blood vessel carrying blood to the brain gets blocked off by a clot.

This causes blood not to reach the brain and one of the causes of this type of stroke is high blood pressure.

A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when an aneurysm in the brain bursts or a weakened blood vessel leaks.

Blood then spills around the brain which creates swelling and pressure, which damages cells and tissue in the brain.

Ms Adams explained what to do when someone has a stroke.

“The first thing to do is the ‘triple H’. The first H stands for hazard which means that you should remove any hazardous objects from the person. The second H is to say hello to the person and see if the patient responds, and the third H is to call for help,” she said.

The next thing to do, she said, is to keep the patient calm.

Reassure the patient that the ambulance is on its way, and that they’re going to be okay. Sit him down on the floor and place him in the recovery position by allowing the patient to lie on his back. Place the arm nearest to you at a right angle to their body with their hand upwards, towards the head. Tuck their other hand under the side of their head, so that the back of their hand is touching their cheek. Bend the knee farthest from you to a right angle and carefully roll the patient onto their side by pulling on the bent knee.

The top arm should be supporting the head and the bottom arm will stop you rolling the patient too far.

Finally, open their airway by gently tilting the patient’s head back and lifting his chin, and check that nothing is blocking his airway.

Find family members or friends and ask them what happened so that you can establish when the golden hour started and relate that information to the ambulance staff.

There are also a few things to remember when handling the stroke patient. Put the patient in to recovery position and turn his head to one side. Place a cloth under the chin if he is drooling. Be sure to loosen any tight clothing, shoes, head scarf and anything else on the patient’s body. Handle the family with empathy and be patient and considerate when telling them what happened.

Also, don’t give the patient anything to eat or drink unless he is very thirsty.

Use a plastic teaspoon and give them only 5ml of water.

While waiting for the ambulance to arrive conduct what is called the SAMPLE technique. S means to check for signs and symptoms of the stroke. A is ask the patient if he has any allergies. M means ask if the patient is currently on any medication. P is to find out about past medical history.

For L you need to check what the patient’s last meal was and when last he used the toilet. E is to find out what the events were leading to the stroke, what the patient was doing before he got the stroke.

Throughout the ordeal, continuously check the patient’s CAB – circulation, airway, and breathing.

Make sure the person remains in the recovery position on the side of the body which is paralysed. Also be prepared to resuscitate the patient if necessary.

The workshop participants were pleased with the information they received.

Najwa Booran said the workshop equipped one to help others.

“There are lots of demonstrations as well,” said Ms Booran.

Lorraine Abrahams said all the information she receives at the workshops are passed onto her family and friends at home.

“There is lots of information you can get at the workshops. You can help yourself and help others at home. I share the information with all my family and friends at home. I wish more people would attend it. It is beneficial,” said Ms Abrahams.

For more information contact Samantha Adams on 072 649 0802.