PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - May is National Stroke Awareness month. Stroke is a leading cause of death, but experts say 80 percent of strokes are preventable. Most people can reduce their risk of stroke through lifestyle changes. But if you suffer a stroke, help is available.
Bonnie Holley from D'Iberville is 79, and has always been independent and healthy.
"I do my own yard work, keep my own house, I'm very independent," Holley said.
But now she's learning how to regain that independence, along with 89-year-old Eva Mae Gill from Escatawpa. Both women recently suffered strokes.
Gill said she knew something was wrong the moment she woke up one morning.
"I was fine when I went to bed, and the next morning I woke up and called my daughter and said, 'Peggy, come here. Something happened to me during the night.'"
Holley was awake when her stroke happened, but the symptoms were vague.
"I was confused, like I was trying to find something. I didn't know what I was looking for," Holley remembered.
Now both women are learning to regain their independence at the Comprehensive Rehabilitation Center at Singing River Hospital in Pascagoula. In addition to working on mobility and speech, they're learning daily living skills; tasks like doing the laundry and cooking a meal.
Gill admits, that with limited use of her left arm and hand now, it's a struggle.
"It's kind of hard with one hand, but I try. You have to just keep on trying."
Nurse Cindy Carrigan is the Patient Care Manager for Singing River's Rehabilitation Center. She says the work these women do in rehab will go a long way toward helping them live normal lives again.
"We have a rehab unit here, and 80 percent of our patients, once they complete our program, they're able to return home," Carrigan said.
Carrigan said it's troubling to her that many people don't know the symptoms of stroke. She said everyone should take notice of any kind of big, sudden change.
"Sudden problems with coordination, walking, sudden problems with seeing, weakness or numbness, or having trouble talking."
She said recognizing those symptoms and receiving quick treatment is critical.
"Stroke is the leading cause of death and disability in our nation."
And she said the patient isn't the only one who suffers.
"I tell people that when a person suffers a stroke, it doesn't just affect the patient. It affects the family, everyone in the home, because it's a true lifestyle change."
Carrigan said rehabilitation is hard work, but adds that the kind of resilience Holley and Gill are embracing as they go through the recovery process will help them with their daily living skills, and get them back to their normal lives sooner.
"Rehab is very important, and it's important that you continue to stimulate those muscles, those nerves, so you continue to have improvement."
If you'd like to learn more about the symptoms of stroke, and tips on prevention, Singing River will host a free stroke community education program May 17th from 6-8 PM at Singing River Medical Park. For more information, call (228) 809-5244.