A new perspective


POSTED: Friday, May 29, 2009

A stroke six years ago changed the lives of Sarah White and her mother, Meg McGowan.

Then 25, White was working two jobs in Boston—as a waitress and research assistant at an eating disorder center—with plans to pursue a graduate degree in psychology.





        Stroke is the third leading cause of death in Hawaii after heart disease and cancer, and the leading cause of major disability.

The American Stroke Association, a division of the American Heart Association, offers 15 tips to help family members cope as stroke caregivers. The list runs from recovery expectations and therapy to resources and preventing a second stroke.


For information or to connect with other stroke survivors and caregivers, visit www.strokeassociation.org/caregivers.


Sarah White's Blog




She was an athlete, on the swimming teams of Punahou School and Williams College, Mass., where she earned an undergraduate degree in psychology and math.

But on Feb. 25, 2003, she was in the shower and could not move her right arm or leg, her mother said. “;Fortunately, someone was there to call emergency and get her to the hospital.”;

White recalled in an e-mail that she had worked on a public forum the day before in the Harvard Eating Disorder Center. “;At night, tuckered out in bed, I had a migraine. And 1 1/2 months in the coma, I said to my mom, 'What happen to me?'”;

McGowan, of 1621 Dole St., said she got a call at 4 a.m. telling her White had had “;a brain hemorrhage”; from a disorder called arteriorvenous malformation. This abnormality of the circulatory system is believed to occur during fetal development or soon after birth, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The defect is “;comprised of snarled tangles of arteries and veins”; that can cause hemorrhage in the brain.

White was in intensive care for about a month and spent about four months in a rehabilitation hospital in Boston, said her mother, who remained with her. McGowan said her daughter “;had to have part of her skull removed to relieve the pressure.”; She also had noninvasive gamma knife radiosurgery to eliminate the abnormality, once in Boston in 2003 and again in 2007 at the Gamma Knife Center at the former St. Francis Hospital.

After coming home, “;It hit her hard when she met people (in a support group) who had dealt with strokes for years ... and she was kind of depressed,”; McGowan said. “;She took antidepressants for a while, then decided for herself she didn't need that.”;





        The Queen's Medical Center for the third year has received the American Stroke Association's Get With the Guidelines—Stroke Gold Performance Achievement Award for a higher standard of stroke care.

“;With a stroke, time lost is brain lost,”; Queen's President Art Ushijima said, and the award “;addresses the important element of time.”;


“;Queen's has developed a comprehensive system for rapid diagnosis and treatment of stroke patients admitted to the emergency department.


“;This includes always being equipped to provide brain imaging scans, having neurologists available to conduct patient evaluations and using clot-busting medications when appropriate,”; he said.


Queen's was commended for following key measures of stroke care and protocols for 24 or more months.


“;The full implementation of acute care and secondary prevention recommendations and guidelines is a critical step in saving the lives and improving outcomes of stroke patients,”; said Dr. Lee Schwamm, national Get With the Guidelines Steering Committee member and director of acute stroke services at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.


Star-Bulletin staff




McGowan said her daughter, a 1996 Punahou graduate, has “;a wonderful supportive group of high school classmates”; and keeps busy with studies, swimming and painting.

She is interested in environmental issues and has been auditing geography classes at Kapiolani Community College. She plans to audit University of Hawaii-Manoa classes in the fall and says, “;My future? Hopefully down the line, I'm taking master's in geography.”;

She can write and e-mail but she cannot write research papers, her mother said, as it is hard to for her to open and close the fingers of her right hand.

She wears an electrical stimulation device on her leg to lift an ankle, which helps her to walk, and uses electrical stimulation on her hand, McGowan said. “;The doctors said recently it may be hard for her ever to have use of her right hand, but she hasn't given up on it.”;

The two swim at the Nuuanu YMCA, and Sarah can swim a mile using one arm and both legs, McGowan said. She paints with her left hand in the Louis Vuitton Art Program at REHAB Hospital and writes a blog, “;Sowhitey's Journal.”;

She offered to share her story for National Stroke Awareness Month in May.

“;She is amazing,”; said her mother. “;My job is so much easier because she has handled this so well. It certainly changes your whole perspective on things. My big worry is to provide for her as I get older, to make her as independent as she can be.”;

The two completed the 3-mile Start! Heart Walk event around Diamond Head last year. American Heart Association spokesman Don Weisman said, “;Meg provided physical support for Sarah as she struggled to maintain her balance and complete the Walk. They were an inspiring sight for everyone who participated in the event.”;