How to best guard against strokes
By Kelly Frances
For many of us, the prospect of having a stroke conjures up images of ‘much older folks’ with protruding bellies. Seldom do we think of such things in our 20s and 30s; after all, Koreans famously soldier through intense workdays, followed by after-work drinking and dining (hoesik), yet still make it to work on time.
What Korean-American lecturer Michael Hurt, 40, came to realize, is that the choices we make during our youth matter. Having recently survived a hemorrhagic stroke, Hurt is swift to warn others about being nonchalant about health.
“Waking up with my entire left side paralyzed would be the
stand-out moment for me," he recalled. “Not being able to go to the bathroom like a normal person, or even alone, or even shower - this will put Old Testament fear into anyone.”
“My thing is now that I am so happy to be alive that I don't see any reason why someone would do something that they may find themselves regretting in a hospital bed, similar to me, later in life.”
Officially, the cause of Hurt’s stroke was traced to undiagnosed high
blood pressure, although his caregivers described the events as “a perfect storm of factors”.
“I can't discount the fact that being overweight was a factor," he said.
“The convergence of a lot of factors, some general and related to my overall state of health, and some specific, all likely converged into that fateful night when my head exploded from the inside.”
For Hurt, it was the wakeup call he needed to put his health habits on track, but it came at a steep cost, shocking those around him and inspiring some with similar habits to head back to the gym.
“I admit that it was Mike’s stroke that got me back into working out," said American Chris Sanders, a 35-year-old lecturer. “It was close to home, and I had been getting lazy.”
Experts caution that Korea is becoming a stroke-friendly nation due to dietary trends and modernization.
“Korea now has a high incidence of stroke among OECD counties and increase is quite recent”, explains Cardiologist Oh Hyung-Tae of Ilsan Gospel General Hospital.
“Usually, the prevalent stroke type in Western countries is embolic infarction (which occurs in a major vessel such as the heart) as opposed to intracranial infarction (occurring in the brain), which is more common in Korea. But incidence of embolic infarction is increasing in Korea.”
Oh chalks it up largely to diet and the stress that accompanies modernization.
“Koreans eat too much salt; usually 3-4 times the recommended daily dose. Furthermore, we have become a highly competitive, material, and modern society, and we are paying the price through our stress levels.”
Hurt wholeheartedly echoed the sentiment.
“Koreans often say, “health is the most important. To a lot of us 30 and 40 somethings, many of whom are floating along without proper health care without giving enough thought to the importance of health, I would say to stop in your tracks and rethink that attitude.”
“If for some reason you have a medical mishap or something happen to you, it's amazing how quickly all those things you thought were important become completely secondary to something like walking, being able to wash yourself, or even just going to the bathroom by oneself.”
Hurt says he emerged from the ordeal a changed man.
After receiving primary treatment at St. Mary's Hospital in Yeouido, treatment he describes as “top-notch”, Hurt spent 3 days in intensive care followed by 2 months in a general hospital ward undergoing physical and occupational therapy.
These days, he spends his days engaging in intense exercise, and is continuing to lose weight.
“I plan to make sure that there is no chance of this reoccurring, and am working hard to make sure my heart is healthy.”
“I see this as a blessing and a good status to maintain with a healthy diet and frequent exercise. That's easy to say, but after you've woken up half paralyzed and told you nearly died, you take that stuff seriously.”
What to do if someone near you is experiencing a stroke
“Contrary to popular belief, needling the fingers is useless and can be wasting of precious time," advised Oh. “Any forceful administration of food or herbs can easily cause asphyxia or Aspiration pneumonia and can be fatal.”
Oh said that when it comes to stroke, patients would do well to seek professional assistance instead of taking the matter in their own hands. “Just calling 119 is best. Time is the most critical factor for treatment and recovery.”
According to Oh, most Korean food is healthy if salt intake is controlled.
“Korean food is often fermented, consisting of dietary fiber and protein. For example, bi-bim-bap (mixed rice) and jap-chae (stir-fried noodles with vegegatbles) provide good combinations of vegetables, meat and carbs.”
Korean food, however, is not monotonously vegetarian, said Oh. “If people want to eat meat, bo-ssam (roasted pork wrapped in lettuce) is a good choice as it uses boiled meat and has lots of vegetables. To increase vegetables, na-mul (seasoned vegetable dish) is a good choice. Ingredients such as tofu and soybean paste are excellent, as is drinking green tea.”
The writer is a guest columnist from Ontario, Canada, and is currently living in Seoul. She welcomes topic suggestions from readers and can be reached by firstname.lastname@example.org.