Tuesday, February 23, 2016

International Stroke conference in Los Angeles

I had the pleasure to attend a luncheon presentation at the International Stroke conference in Los Angeles last week. There were over 4000 international scientists and healthcare professionals in attendance – the conference, not the luncheon. This is the venue where new papers are presented and new ideas are exchanged each year.

The panel discussion was led by Nancy Brown, the CEO of the Heart Association. She introduced Dr.  Mary Ann Bauman who works with the Association, Dr. Jeremy Payne, Neurologist and head of the Banner system in AZ and Dr. Ralph Sacco, Neurosurgeon.

The panel was narrated by Bri Winkler, a stroke survivor who works as a spokesperson for the Association. Bri is a young woman who suffered a stroke a few years ago and has recovered fully. She is among the lucky 10% who show little in the way of outward signs of the damage that a stroke can do. While Bri is indicative of the lack of age discrimination with Strokes, she is not representative of the 65% of stroke survivors who, while not requiring institutionalization, display deficits that stop them from returning to their former lives. While terrific to put a young face to stroke, I think that featuring someone who is working with the deficits a stroke can bring would bring home the devastation and the urgency of the needs, better than what is being done now.

It was interesting to hear the association express the thought that they want to reposition the programs toward brain health, healthy aging and cognitive health. We do think that it would be a more convincing argument  and a stronger case to be made for increased brain research, if the Association presented people who are affected by the changes in the brain that occur with stroke. It becomes evident, very quickly, of the need for research dollars and for the innovation of scientists and healthcare providers to analyze the brain, brain functions, neuroplasticity …the list goes on.

While stroke prevention is very similar in risk factors like heart health, the outcomes are significantly different. Heart attack victims get well, stroke survivors only get better. The Association could be stronger if it recognized this difference and build upon it.