Stroke check
Between 750 and 1,000 receive free risk evaluations at the annual Stroke Check event around Tucson. Participating hospitals for this year’s event, scheduled for May 14, include Northwest Medical Center and Oro Valley Hospital. courtesy of Carondelet St. Mary’s Hospital

The retired college professor had no idea how great at risk she was for a stroke. Or maybe she suspected her high blood pressure could contribute to heart issues but, since she lived alone, the 80-something educator had no one to prod her to take better care of her health. Then a visit to a free Stroke Check event last year changed all that.

After tests showed she had critical heart problems, the woman was taken to the emergency room and treated, said Mary Toth, marketing coordinator at Oro Valley Hospital. “You saved my life that day,” the woman told Toth months later.

Participating hospitals, such as Oro Valley Hospital and Northwest Medical Center, see about 750 to 1,000 people total during the free evaluations. Each location will usually have at least one or two people who have significant signs of a stroke happening during the screening, said Joy Pipes, the coordinator for Tucson’s Stroke Check events.

Another example was a man in his mid-70s who lost the use of one side of his body during the exam due to his high blood pressure. The man, who was taking medication to control his HBP, was not even aware that anything was occurring until his body went numb on one side. He, too, was immediately taken to the ER.

“People have to stay on top of their health and medications. They can’t miss doses,” Pipes noted.

May is National Stroke and High Blood Pressure Awareness Month, and so hospitals across Tucson are offering the free stroke checks this Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon.

Stroke is a disease that affects the blood vessels that supply blood to the brain. A stroke occurs when a blood vessel to the brain is either blocked by a clot (ischemic stroke) or bursts (hemorrhagic stroke). When that happens, part of the brain is no longer getting the blood and oxygen it needs, so it starts to die. Your brain controls your movement and thoughts, so a stroke doesn’t only hurt your brain. It also hurts the brain’s ability to think and control body functions. Strokes can affect language, memory and vision as well as cause paralysis and other health issues. According to the American Stroke Association:

• 1 in 3 adults has high blood pressure, yet about 21 percent don’t know they have it.

• About 795,000 Americans will have a new or recurrent stroke this year.

• 76.4 million people ages 20 and over have high blood pressure.

• About every 40 seconds someone has a stroke. About every 4 minutes, someone dies of a stroke.

• A TIA or transient ischemic attack is a “warning stroke” or “mini-stroke” that produces stroke-like symptoms but no lasting damage. Recognizing and treating TIAs can reduce your risk of a major stroke.

• The usual TIA symptoms are the same as those of stroke, only temporary. The short duration of these symptoms and lack of permanent brain injury is the main difference between TIA and stroke.

• It’s very important to check the time that a stroke occurs so you’ll know when the first symptoms appeared. If given within three hours of the start of symptoms, a clot-busting drug called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) may reduce long-term disability for the most common type of stroke. tPA is the only FDA-approved medication for the treatment of stroke within three hours of stroke symptom onset.

Attending the free Stroke Check event is the first step a person can take in bettering their health.

“It’s such a great event,” said Toth. “We have doctors reading the results, so this is an opportunity to talk one-on-one with doctors without worrying about a co-pay. It’s a great service to the community.”

If you go

What: 8th Annual Stroke Check

When: Saturday, May 14 from 8 a.m. to noon

Where: Northwest Tucson: Northwest Medical Center, 6200 N. La Cholla Blvd., and Oro Valley Hospital, 1551 E. Tangerine Road. Also, Carondelet St. Joseph’s Hospital, 350 N. Wilmot Road; Carondelet St. Mary’s Hospital, 1601 W. Saint Mary’s Road; Tucson Medical Center, 5301 E. Grant Road; University Medical Center, 1501 N. Campbell Ave.

Cost: Free

For more information, call 872-4344.

Warning signs of a stroke

• Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body

• Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding

• Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes

• Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination

• Sudden, severe headache with no known cause

What to do

 • Immediately call 9-1-1 or the emergency medical services (EMS) number so an ambulance (ideally with advanced life support) can be sent for you.

• Also, check the time so you’ll know when the first symptoms appeared. If given within three hours of the start of symptoms, a clot-busting drug called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) may reduce long-term disability for the most common type of stroke.

• For more information, visit

Source: American Stroke Association

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