South Bend, Ind. Tuesday is World Stroke Day which may not seem significant to you, but it should. Every 40 seconds a person has a stroke in the U.S. and they kill someone every four minutes.
If you do the math, nearly 800,000 people in our country will have a stroke this year.
Tuesday night in a special Medical Moment Just Before Six, we re-introduce you to a Michiana couple that's been battling back for seven years.
They want you to know the warning signs so that their journey doesn't turn into yours, because that life changing stroke was preventable.
This was Barb Knutson of South Bend when we first introduced you to her in 2009. Two years earlier, at 48, this avid sportswoman suffered a stroke. Bruce and their two kids were shocked.
“Real proactive relative to checkups, mammograms, you know female stuff,” says Bruce Knutson. “Obviously she was a physical therapist. She unfortunately had a little clot in her carotid and it released some plaque and just took her out during the night. That was really a low point when you're told your wife may not walk or talk again.”
While high blood pressure is the most controllable risk factor for stroke, Bruce and Barb want people to ask their doctors to check their carotid arteries.
Barb still struggles with language. She has severe expressive aphasia. But her brain functions just fine and she is obviously much more mobile than the last time we met.
True to her physical therapy background, she rides her bike every day. And Bruce helps her too. Her right arm gets locked up, so every morning he helps her go through the motions to keep it relaxed.
Bruce says most stroke survivors are told they are at 95 percent of what they can expect at six months, a diagnosis the Knutson's would not accept.
She continued the treatment recommended by her doctors, but the Knutson's started looking at alternative therapy in Chicago, not covered by insurance, and Bruce says that's when he started seeing real changes.
“We found tremendous improvement with hyperbaric oxygen therapy,” says Bruce. “With that her speech picked up and her walking velocity picked up. She has this Bioness which is this bionic equipment that helps her toe drop which is just an electronic knee cuff that triggers her foot.”
Most recently Barb has been going to Chicago for Enbrel treatments. A strong anti-inflammatory, currently used for rheumatoid arthritis that doctors inject into the back of her neck, which is not FDA approved.
The Knutson's also moved into a smaller home making changes to help Barb like making the bathroom open and functional so Barb doesn't need help showering.
Bruce says the road hasn't been easy but they still feel blessed and he and Barb want even the healthiest viewers to be aware of how insidious a stroke can be. Watch your blood pressure and cholesterol and the one they missed.
“Get your carotids checked,” says Bruce. “That plaque could release to your brain and you're going to be in big trouble.”
Talk to your doctor about the combination of medications you are on, because they can work against one another. Barb's a trooper and keeps working hard.
I work day to day to day,” says Barb Knutson.
“To hide behind a curtain is crazy,” says Bruce. “I mean we have a life. Barbs not out, you know doing marathons, but she likes to take the pontoon boat for a little cocktail cruise or riding on the golf cart, watching her kids, watching me. We're different, no question about it but you know what, day to day, not bad.”
Not bad for a couple coping with change and looking forward to the future.
Bruce is on the Board of Directors for the American Heart Association and the couple established a foundation called the Barbie B Foundation which is a resource for people dealing with stroke.
In case you are wondering, St. Joseph Regional Medical Center is the certified primary stroke center in Michiana.
Barbie "B" Foundation:
American Heart Association/American Stroke Association hospitals that meet standards for prompt stroke patient care:
Spot a stroke: