Debra Goldman is the new executive director of the Derie Cheek Foundation.
The DCR Foundation was created in 2011 by Derie’s husband, Kevin Reece. The foundation is named in memory of Derie, who died from a stroke at the age of 33.
Reece said that Goldman’s combination of experience with politics and medical knowledge made her the clear and perfect choice for the position.
Goldman is a nationally certified firefighter, an EMT, and a former member and two-time Vice Chair of the Wake County Board of Education. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Pennsylvania State University.
According to Goldman, strokes kill roughly four times more people each year than cancer. Goldman is a breast cancer survivor and said that if she had the same magnitude of stroke as she had of cancer - and if she had lived - she would not be able to communicate today because of the major effects.
Kevin Reece said that the rate of strokes is increasing, especially in women under the age of 35. Overall the number of strokes has went up 8 percent in the last five years. This is due in part from lifestyle choices and in part location, Goldman said.
“Diet and exercise are the main components, just like in many other diseases,” said Goldman. Inactivity and increasingly poor meal choices are causing many of the strokes. What had once been a disease only seen in the elderly is spreading to younger and younger demographics, she said.
Reece also listed drug use as a risk factor. As drug users constantly constrict their blood vessels with substance abuse they weaken the interior walls. This makes the user much more likely to have a stroke-causing clot.
Geography is another factor according to Goldman. North Carolina is part of the “Stroke Belt,” comprised of much of the Southeastern United States. The area is known for stroke rates roughly 10 percent higher than the national average. Diet also comes into play here with the Stroke Belt being known for fried Southern foods.
“Stroke does not have any boundaries. It can hit anyone at anytime,” she said.
Goldman said she’s a major proponent of healthy lifestyle choices. During her time at Wake County Board of Education, she implemented running clubs, healthy eating programs and other health-based initiatives in the schools in her district.
“What happened was what I had hoped would happen. When you do it with the kids then it starts to extend home. I hear from parents ‘My child joined the running club and now she wants to run at home, and she keeps asking why I am not, so we are all jogging now.’”
Education is still at the heart of Goldman’s mission. Through scholarships for students at Wilkes and Surry Community Colleges in the nursing field as well as lectures and programs through schools, the foundation continues to promote stroke education at young ages to prevent the increase of strokes in the 20-30 year age group.
“If we can go and educate students about stroke, lifestyle changes and the symptoms of stroke, can you imagine how it would feel to hear from a child that has recognized the symptoms that someone is having a stroke and identify that and save a life?”
Goldman listed FAST, or Face-Arms-Speech-Time, as a way to diagnose a potential stroke. FAST is a way to remember where to look for warning signs of a stroke. Ask the person to smile and check if one side of their face droops. Ask the person to raise both arms, watching to see if one arm drifts downward. Ask the person to speak so you can check for slurred speech. Finally, do not waste time. If the person you are concerned about shows any of these signs contact 911 immediately.
“If people recognize that they are having a stroke then they can be directed toward the right hospital and get the right treatment in that magic window of time,” Goldman said.
She said that there is some discrepancy in the numbers, but between three and four hours is all the time a person has to receive a intravenous drug known as TDAP. If the drug is administered in time a person can prevent much of the damage from a stroke. After four hours a person is likely to be permanently injured.
Goldman said that she wanted to be a spokeswoman for those who could not speak for themselves. Due to the crippling effects of a stroke, many who do live are not physically able to campaign for stroke education themselves. Slurred speech and depression make survivors less likely to willingly speak to large groups.
Goldman and Reece expressed their desire that a stroke survivor would step forward and be willing to advocate for prevention and education. Goldman said it often takes the public hearing a firsthand account to make the message resonate with them.
Prevention was the best tactic for survival Goldman said. As important as the warning signs are, if you witnessed the FAST symptoms a stroke was already occurring. Major lifestyle changes are the only way to reduce the numbers of strokes, she said. Reece said education was the best tool in fighting strokes and making that lifestyle and perception change in the public.
When talking about his late wife, Reece said that had he known what to look for, things may have been different.
“If there was enough education on strokes I probably would have recognized what it was. Maybe if I would have recognized what it was I maybe could have prompted the EMS to have done something different or quicker.”
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