Northwestern gets $1.4M grant to Bring ‘Stroke Champions’ to Chicago Neighborhoods

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It took Kimberly Rodgers less than 40 minutes to figure out something was really wrong.

Dealing with a severe migraine, she was doing her laundry when all of the sudden she couldn’t figure out the dial on her washing machine.

“Then I looked in the mirror and my face didn’t look like right,” said Rodgers, who suffered her stroke on April 13, 2014. “I called my aunt who is a nurse. She heard the way I was talking and told me to go right to the hospital.”

So Rodgers, 43, immediately went to Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Because she received prompt treatment, she is doing better and has mostly recovered from her stroke. However, not everyone in her situation knows to get prompt medical treatment. Whether it’s because of a lack of understanding of the importance of quick treatment or because some stroke symptoms don’t seem as serious as other deadly conditions such as heart attacks, some people put off calling 911 or going to the hospital. This inaction or delay can lead to death or disability. Preliminary data estimate that only 45 percent of stroke patients in Chicago use emergency medical services and 28 percent arrive to the hospital within 3 hours.

To tackle this problem, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine was recently awarded $1.4 million from the federally funded Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), which was established by the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. During the next three years, Northwestern Medicine® and Rush University Medical Center researchers, partnering with other stroke center hospitals in Chicago, will work with community leaders in Chicago’s south and west neighborhoods to spread the message “call 911 immediately for stroke.”  The team will work with leaders from churches, schools, aldermen’s offices, and hospitals in these neighborhoods about becoming Stroke Champions in their neighborhoods.

The Community Engagement for Early Recognition and Immediate Action in Stroke (CEERIAS) study is a multi-institutional and academic-community partnered program meant to address disparities in stroke awareness, barriers to health care access, and treatments and outcomes. A team of qualified researchers and community stakeholders will work with neighborhoods in the south side of Chicago to understand perceptions and barriers, develop a novel program in the community, and track outcomes at neighborhood hospitals.

The CEERIAS study is being led by three principal investigators, Shyam Prabhakaran, MD, from Northwestern Medicine, Neelum T. Aggarwal, MD, from the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center and Rush University Medical Center and community leader, KnitashaWashington, MD.

“Strokes are more common and more severe in minorities, especially African Americans and Hispanics,” said Northwestern Medicine neurologist Shyam Prabhakaran, MD. “But research shows that minority stroke patients are less likely to go the hospital in time to receive treatments that can lessen the damage from stroke. We want more minority communities to understand the importance of calling 911 for stroke to ensure people are taken to the hospital and given the correct medications right away.”

Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke. It is the fourth leading cause of death and the number one cause of adult disability leaving more than two thirds of survivors with lasting impairment. When treatment is received promptly, a person has a far greater chance of surviving the stroke and more likely to have less lasting damage.

“By working extensively in the Chicago communities where stroke disparities are prevalent, we will be able to understand how social and psychosocial risk factors impact stroke symptom recognition and action,” said Rush neurologist, Neelum T. Aggarwal, MD.  “We really need patient and community involvement to understanding barriers to prompt response to stroke symptoms as well as to develop effective and culturally appropriate approaches that promote stroke awareness and early action.”

Rodgers, who is African American, said if her father had not suffered a stroke six years ago, she might not have known the symptoms or to go straight to the hospital.

“For a lot of my friends and family, running right to the hospital is not an option,” Rodgers said. “I have learned from the older generation in my family to lie down when feeling ill or drink some water. But really if you feel out of sorts, go to the doctor. Find out what the problem is.”

After the three-year study is complete, parts of Chicago and other cities in the United States may use the study results to establish similar programs to help their residents fight stroke, Prabhakaran said.

“If our Stroke Champion Program works, we will save lives and save brain function for many people,” said Prabhakaran, who is also an associate professor of neurology at the Feinberg School of Medicine. “The faster people with stroke arrive at the hospital, the sooner they are treated and the more likely they will have less disability and handicap.”

Take this Northwestern Medicine stroke risk assessment to learn more about stroke risk factors you can help control. For more information about stroke, visit our website. To find a physician, call 312-926-0779.