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Stroke victims need more help

As an avid hockey player growing up in Minnesota, I was sad to learn of the stroke suffered by former Detroit Red Wings legend Gordie Howe last October. I am a vascular neurosurgeon and an associate professor in the University of Minnesota’s department of neurosurgery. Most of my research focuses on using stem cells for treating stroke.

My work made me particularly interested in Karen Bouffard’s Feb. 11 report, “Howe’s stroke treatment raises hope, questions,” on Howe’s trip to Mexico to receive an experimental therapy using mesenchymal stem cells to improve the outcome of his stroke.

Traveling outside the United States for experimental therapies has become more common as an increasing number of trials and therapies are introduced outside our borders because of the rigors associated with getting such trials approved by the FDA.

While this can be controversial, the severity of many diseases and patients’ desperation given our limited therapies for these diseases entices numerous people every year to do what Howe did. As Bouffard illustrates in her article, this topic is quite polarizing given patients’ needs for new therapies and the time and great expense associated with FDA-approved trials.

But let’s not focus on who is right or whether Howe’s improvement after his treatment is associated with the treatment he received versus the normal improvement associated with stroke within the first six months. I would rather draw your attention to the urgent need for developing new treatments for stroke.

As Gordie’s story illustrates, stroke dramatically impacts lives — in his case, the ability to walk and talk.

As Bouffard highlights, approximately 800,000 people a year in the U.S. have a stroke.

Among these, we treat less than 5 percent. Most people are shocked when they hear that 95 percent of strokes in the United States are not treated, but this is the reality.

Today in the United States and across the globe, stroke remains an epidemic. While most people either know a friend or family member who have had a stroke or have had one themselves, very little is being done about demanding change, demanding a cure. Perhaps because of stroke’s devastating impact on the ability to speak, there are very few “faces” of stroke.

Thinking about other devastating diseases, it is easy to identify faces such as Michael J Fox (Parkinson’s disease), Christopher Reeve (spinal cord injury), and Magic Johnson (HIV/AIDS), but who is the face of stroke?

Traveling around Minnesota to talk about and advocate for stroke treatment, I am frequently asked, “If I have a stroke where should I go?” I find this an ironic question as in the majority of strokes, language is affected and even if people knew where to go, they frequently would not be able to communicate it. I firmly believe that if you want to ensure you will receive timely and aggressive therapy for stroke, we all need to rise up and advocate for change in the way stroke care is delivered and for much greater interest in and funding for stroke research.

My dream is that people around the world can rise up and insist that we do better for stroke victims, that we find a cure.

We need anyone who has been touched by stroke to advocate for better stroke education, for fundraising, and for research to find a cure.

Gordie, you were an inspiration to so many of us hockey players and today you are an inspiration for many who have suffered from stroke. You have given us a face of stroke. Thank you.

Dr. Andrew Grande, associate professor,

neurosurgery department,

University of Minnesota