Celebrity stroke deaths raise awareness

Health News

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – The deaths of film director John Singleton and actor Luke Perry within weeks of each other is raising awareness about strokes across the country. 

It’s a disease that hits both Georgia and South Carolina particularly hard, as both states fall within the Stroke Belt, identified by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. 

Dr. Shannon Stewart, a neurologist with St. Joseph’s/Candler Hospital in Savannah explains the designation. “If you think about your belt, the middle of the belt is that buckle South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama,  North Florida, we’re right in the middle of it,” she said. “So we have much higher rates of stroke and heart disease than other parts of the country, even within our own stroke belt, we just have a higher rate of those diseases.”

There are several myths surrounding stroke, including that it’s an elderly ailment.

“I’ve seen many patients, you know, 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, and so it’s not just a disease of the elderly. That’s why I tell all my patients: know your risk factors,” Stewart said. 

There are a number of medical conditions that can elevate the risk of stroke, including heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes. 

There are steps to lower that risk like:

  • Talk to your primary care physician
  • Take your medicine
  • Control blood pressure
  • Check cholesterol
  • Manage heart disease
  • Manage diabetes


There are three main types of stroke: ischemic, hemorrhagic, and transient ischemic attack:

  1. Ischemic stroke occurs when the artery to the brain becomes blocked. A third of ischemic strokes are classified as non-specific stroke It is a stroke of unknown cause. 
  2. Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when an artery in the brain ru.ptures or breaks open causing bleeding into or around the brain.
  3. Transient ischemic attack (TIA or “mini-stroke”) occurs when blood flow to the brain is blocked for only a short time.  However, just like the other types of stroke, TIA is a medical emergency and shouldn’t be ignored.

The Georgia Department of Public Health shares these F.A.S.T. warning signs to indicate a stroke:

  • All of the major symptoms of stroke appear suddenly, and without warning and they are often not painful but still need to be taken seriously.  
  • The most common symptoms of stroke can be remembered by the acronym FAST.
  • FACE DROOPING: Does one side of the face droop or is it numb?  As the person to smile.  Is the person’s smile uneven?
  • ARM WEAKNESS: Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms.  Does one arm drift downward?
  • SPEECH DIFFICULTY: Is speech slurred?  Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand?  Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like “The sky is blue.”  Is the sentence repeated correctly? 
  • TIME TO CALL 9-1-1:  If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 right away.  Check the time so you’ll know when the first symptoms appeared.  Time is critical!

Beyond F.A.S.T. — other warning signs of stroke include:

  • Sudden NUMBNESS or weakness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden CONFUSION, trouble speaking or understanding speech
  • Sudden TROUBLE SEEING in one or both eyes
  • Sudden TROUBLE WALKING, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden SEVERE HEADACHE with no known cause

Dr. Stewart says stroke is a disease where the best treatment is total avoidance of the condition.

“The best way to treat a stroke, I say, is to prevent a stroke,” she said.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Trending Stories