The Roundup -

May is Stroke Month, Act F.A.S.T!


Ken with his favorite therapist, Twila.

Life changed forever for Ken and Linda Simonsen at 10:30 am on December 21, 2011. As a rancher and farmer in the Girard community, Ken fed his cattle, then came in the house because it was snowing, rather than work on a project in an old barn as he had planned. He said he wasn't feeling well, thinking he had drunk too much coffee. He drank a glass of water, sat down in the living room, and suffered a massive ischemic stroke.

Fortunately, Linda recognized the signs immediately. She had witnessed strokes in two other men, plus she had a magnet that had hung by her phone for years. The magnet says STROKE is an Emergency. Every minute counts. ACT F.A.S.T!

F.A.S.T! is an acronym to help recognize the symptoms of a stroke; Face, Arms, Speech, Time.

After initial treatment at Sidney Health Center, Ken was flown to Benefis Healthcare Stroke Center in Great Falls on December 23 where he entered rehab. On February 8, Ken and Linda were able to return to their home.

Ken had suffered an ischemic stroke, which is caused by a blocked artery in the brain. It may be treated with a clot-busting drug called IPA but that must be administered within three hours of the stroke. Thanks to quick action, Ken received the drug at Sidney Health Center.

A hemorrhagic stroke is caused by a ruptured blood vessel. In either case, time is of the essence. "Time lost is brain lost."

The warning signs of stroke include: Sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body; Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding; Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes; Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination; Sudden, severe headaches with no known cause.

Ken and Linda have had fantastic support from friends and family. However, Girard is relatively isolated and opportunities for outside support are limited.

Last summer, Linda read in Stroke Smart magazine about a stroke camp for survivors and their caregivers. A Retreat and Refresh stroke camp was scheduled in Red Lodge in the fall, sponsored by St. Vincent Healthcare. Encouraged by a friend who read about the camp in the Billings Gazette, Linda made plans to go, despite much skepticism on Ken's part.

"What an amazing weekend," Linda said. St. Vincent funds the camp and staffs it with mostly volunteers including therapists of all kinds who work with both the survivors and caregivers. Survivors show the broad spectrum of stroke effects from the person whose speech is perfect but can't keep their brain organized, to the one who finds speech very difficult but has learned the skills to find the right words. Others have various difficulties with limbs and balance. The main message to all was not to give up but to keep trying.

Although some activities included both, the survivors and caregivers attend separate sessions dedicated to their own needs. Despite Ken's initial reluctance, he ended up having a good time and learning a lot. He was able to interact with survivors aged 9 to 80 and see the unique effects of stroke in each, as well as their coping mechanisms. For many, it was their first time at camp while others had attended several times.

For Linda, it was a welcome break from the daily stress which falls on the caregiver. They were met at the car, their luggage was unloaded and she was told that the staff would take care of Ken. "They are dedicated to giving the caregiver respite," she said.

Ken and Linda highly recommend the camp to anyone who has had a stroke, even if there are no apparent signs of damage. There are over 20 camps throughout the US. The Montana one will be held September 25-27, 2015 at Rock Creek Resort, Red Lodge.

With the amazing support of St. Vincent, the cost is extremely reasonable and the benefits are priceless. To register, or for more information contact the Stroke Camp office at 309-688-5450, [email protected] or visit their website at

Since Stroke Camp has a history of never turning anyone away for inability to pay, donations are welcome. They may be mailed to 2000 W. Pioneer Pkwy, Ste 16, Peoria, IL 61615 or made through the Donate/Pay Camp Fees button at Be sure to designate that the funds are for camper assistance.

To educate the public about the symptoms of stroke and the need for immediate medical treatment, Major League Baseball sponsors the Strike Out Stroke campaign. Up to 25 teams, watched by millions of fans, host stroke symptom awareness events each season promoting F.A.S.T! Watch this summer for your favorite team's events.

Ken and Linda enjoy the fifties dance.

Fifth graders are also being educated about stroke awareness and the F.A.S.T! message through the Retreat and Refresh camp. Survivors and caregivers share their post-stroke experiences, and the students have the opportunity to ask questions. They also may participate in a disability situation such as putting on a shoe and tying it, or putting on a belt with one hand. The students also learn ways to prevent a stroke by eating healthy, exercising, not smoking or doing drugs.

Linda has received permission and materials from the Retreat and Refresh camp organization to try to put together a 5th grade program for Richland County.

May is Stroke Month. Be aware of the symptoms of stroke, and Act F.A.S.T!


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