The month of May was recognized as National Stroke Awareness Month. While we are now in the month of June I don’t think it is never too late nor is it inappropriate to focus our attention on stroke awareness. For anyone who has been affected by a stroke every month is Stroke Awareness Month.
I am one who knows first-hand about strokes. As a youth, I remember seeing my father suffer two of his three strokes. I will not going into the graphic details of what happened but those times were some of the most horrifying times I’ve ever experienced in my life. To actually witness my father battle for his life has always had an impact on my own perspective of maintaining my own health. My father was a very lucky, he was able to rebound from each stroke without sustaining any lasting paralysis or inability to communicate effectively.
In my final training camp with the New York Giants in 1988, I received a message that my former college sweetheart suffered a stroke upon arriving at her place of employment. At the time she was only 33 years old. Up to that point I thought like many others that a stroke was reserved for older people. Knowing someone who had been affected at such a young age (33) as well as knowing how strokes affected my own father gave me a reason to learn more about the medical condition.
Over the years I’ve grown to understand that the area of South Carolina where I grew up was in what has become known as the “Stroke Belt”. That chain of southern states is comprised of Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee. In the stroke belt people who reside in those states tend to have more strokes and are more likely to die from them than people living in other parts of the country. When I speak with health related groups I often mention a statement that one of my college professors made in a course I took so many years ago. Dr. O.C. Dawson stood in class and exclaimed to the women in that class “Ladies do not marry a Black Man from South Carolina!” As a class we all were dumbfounded by the statement but then he went on to say that “most Black Men in South Carolina do not live long lives” due to the lack of exercise, smoking cigarettes, hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity. While we were taken aback we realized that he was right.
The truth is, 80% of strokes are avoidable! Your risks can be decreased by doing several simple but disciplined things. The first is to eat a healthy diet including reducing your salt intake. Another is to work to reduce your weight especially if you are obese. Throw away the soft drinks and the drinks that are heavy with sugar and consume more water. Reduce alcohol consumption and exercise more. The last point is urgently important in maintaining good health and reducing the average person’s risk.
I understand that based on my father’s strokes, having lived in South Carolina and simply being a black male I qualify for being at a greater risk of having a stroke but I make certain that I do all I can to live a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise and a healthy diet.
I am responsible for my well-being and I strongly encourage you to take that approach to maintaining and managing your own health.