Statistics on health issues are often not encouraging for South Jersey residents.

From cancer prevention to risks to children, the region gets relatively poor marks.

And the numbers on strokes, the fifth-leading cause of death in the country, are no different.

South Jersey counties lead the state in deaths, preventable deaths and hospitalizations from strokes, which most commonly occur when blood flow to an area of the brain is cut off, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cumberland had the state’s highest death rate.

Fortunately, there is encouraging news that the situation can be improved through ongoing education efforts and a national group’s recent designation of AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center’s Atlantic City campus as a Comprehensive Stroke Center.

The certification by the Joint Commission and the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association recognizes hospitals that have specific abilities to receive and treat the most complex stroke cases. Other area hospitals also have been recognized for their abilities to treat victims.

Valuable education issues were stressed in May, which is designated as Stroke Awareness Month. And even with that month in the past, local health care experts continue their work to spread the word on how to recognize the symptoms of stroke and the need to take immediate action when those signs arise.

Dr. Jorge Eller, of Thomas Jefferson University and AtlantiCare, is among those preaching the importance of quick response to ensure the best possible outcomes.

“We try to convey, every time, that strokes are potentially treatable,” he says. “With all the technology and understanding on strokes today, we can potentially completely reverse symptoms of stroke. However, time is everything. If they come to us too late, we may not be able to do that.”

Important symptoms to watch out for are blurred vision, droopiness in the face, slurred speech and weakness in the arms. When those symptoms are present, the experts say it is vital to call 911 as quickly as possible and take an ambulance to the hospital so treatment can begin even before arrival.

The quicker treatment begins, the better the prospects for recovery working with doctors and therapists such as those at the Bacharach Institute for Rehabilitation in Galloway Township.

The recent instance of a member of the Mainland Regional High School crew team suffering a stroke after a rowing competition shows no one should assume he or she is not a potential victim. But knowing the risk factors — from high blood pressure to diabetes and poor diet — is important in the fight against a problem that kills more than 130,000 Americans each year.

Rower Connor Kelley’s family say he is nearly fully recovered from his May stroke and looking forward to rejoining his crew teammates. Hopefully, a concerted, continuing battle against strokes will make such outcomes more common in South Jersey.

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