At a gala event at Claridge’s Hotel in central London, The Stroke Association last week hosted its annual Life After Stroke Awards to recognize the achievements of stroke survivors, carers, volunteers, major donors, corporate supporters and health professionals from across the UK. GE Healthcare was presented with the Corporate Supporter Award for its “earnest commitment to the prevention and appropriate treatment of stroke.”
"When it came to deciding who would receive the Corporate Supporter Award, it was sort of a natural,” says Joe Korner, director of communications at The Stroke Association, a UK charity that is attacking the condition on all fronts by funding research, providing support to stroke patients and their families, and increasing knowledge of stroke at all levels of society. “GE Healthcare has been unquestionably supportive, in a way that's been really helpful to our campaign, and without any interference."
Spreading Knowledge to Save Lives
Stroke is the third-biggest killer(1) and the leading cause of severe disability in the UK.(2) Of all people who have a stroke, about one-third are likely to die within the first 10 days, about one-third are likely to make a recovery within one month and about one-third are likely to be left with disabilities and needing rehabilitation.(3)
“Despite its severe impact on society, stroke has not been an area that is really discussed,” says Gisela Abbam, head of government affairs at GE Healthcare. “But the chances of having a stroke can be reduced if people make healthy choices. Even more important, people need to know what to do when they or someone they are with has a stroke or a transient ischemic attack, a mini-stroke. ”
Stroke can be treated with high efficacy if diagnosed quickly. And that means getting a brain scan within three hours of the episode. The key is to understand what has happened in the brain, because different types of stroke call for completely different treatments. With ischemic stroke — a blockage of a blood vessel in the brain — initial treatment aims to reduce the blood’s ability to clot, and potentially dissolve the blockage itself. With hemmoragic stroke, in which a blood vessel ruptures, releasing blood into the brain cavity, initial treatment aims to promote blood clotting, to reduce bleeding. A computed tomography (CT) scan is employed to identify the location and type of stroke, providing the information necessary to begin treatment.
With transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), the blood vessel blockage is temporary, and the patient’s symptoms can subside in a relatively short period. However, if left untreated, there is a high likelihood that a full stroke will occur. In the case of a suspected TIA, a magnetic resonance (MR) scan can help physicians understand the impact of the event on brain tissue, and help them determine appropriate treatment.
In each of these scenarios, time is of the essence. Two things are required to ensure this level of responsiveness, Abbam says. The public needs to widely understand the signs of a stroke or TIA, in the same way there is a generally good awareness of the symptoms of heart attacks, and to call an ambulance immediately. And the health service needs to be prepared to route patients to specialized stroke units extremely quickly.
A Message That Struck a Chord
Towards the end of 2005, The Stroke Association launched its Stroke Is a Medical Emergency campaign to ensure stroke got the priority it deserved within the NHS, with the goal of shifting awareness and practice to enable quick diagnosis.
“At the time, it was a bit of a radical thing to do,” Korner says. “Our goal was not only to get the health service to change, but to generally raise awareness of stroke symptoms.”
The association came up with an acronym — FAST — which was originally devised to make it easy for paramedics to recognise the signs so they could take patients directly to the stroke unit at the hospital. But the value of extending this knowledge to the general public was soon recognized.
By 2007, the campaign had struck a chord across the country, and demand for literature had depleted The Stroke Association’s campaign budget. It was at this time that Abbam and Korner first met, at The Stroke Association’s annual UK Stroke Forum, a conference drawing physicians, stroke specialist nurses and other healthcare professionals. The introduction led to some immediate funding by GE Healthcare to keep the campaign afloat, and was the start of a collaboration that has expanded year over year.
Bettina Fitt, UK general manager at GE Healthcare, has been a strong advocate of this partnership. “The nature of our business at GE Healthcare brings us into contact with a wide array of diseases and public health issues, but with The Stroke Association we saw that our involvement could really be a catalyst for change.”
Making a Valuable Contribution
So far, GE Healthcare has contributed approximately £150,000 of direct funding to The Stroke Association as a sponsor of the UK Stroke Forum and of the FAST campaign. The company also has organized round-table events, media briefings and other forums for discussion about the latest thinking on treating stroke, which have led to additional opportunities for The Stroke Association.
Korner gives an example of the non-financial benefits: “I attended an event that GE Healthcare organized on the management of TIA, and that led to an invitation for me to address the European Stroke Conference, and that in turn led to other important contacts that have enabled us to push our efforts into Europe. So it is beneficial to bring people together in this space, and we wouldn't necessarily be able to organize these gatherings ourselves, without support.”
The benefits, however, are not purely unilateral. The Stroke Association is supporting GE's own employee health initiative, called Health Ahead, by visiting every GE facility in the UK to educate staff about stroke prevention and what it takes to have a healthy heart and mind.
The FAST campaign continues apace. A recent television campaign on stroke awareness by the Department of Health led to another run on FAST leaflets from The Stroke Association, which has now distributed over half a million of them.
“Our work on treating stroke as a medical emergency is a work in progress,” Korner says. “Data shows there is much more to be done. That means making sure that everyone — all members of the public — can quickly recognize a stroke, and immediately dial 999. Second, we need to make sure that the whole organization of our health system is geared up to deal with stroke, getting people to hospital quickly and to the scanner quickly. We know, and the evidence is clear, that this speeds up recovery and can make the difference between life and death.”
(1) Wolfe, C ‘The Burden of Stroke’ in Wolfe C., Rudd, T. and Beech, R. (eds) Stroke Services and Research (1996), The Stroke Association.
(2) ‘Is Stroke the Most Common Cause of Disability’ Joy Adamson, Andy Beswick, Shah Ebrahim
(3) Bosanquet, N. and Franks, P., Stroke Care: Reducing the burden of the disease, 1998, The Stroke Association.