“Stroke” – the word conjures about mental and physical disability. Indeed, stroke is a leading cause of serious long-term disability and reduces mobility in more than half of stroke survivors age 65 and over.
Mark McEwen is a reporter for CBS, but what many people may not know is that Mark has a common heart arrhythmia called atrial fibrillation (also known as AFib) and suffered a stroke, and has gone through extensive rehabilitation to regain what his stroke took away from him. As Mark told us – “I was in a coma, I was in intensive care for a week, I was in the hospital for a month, rehab for a year … I wouldn’t wish stroke on my worst enemy. It’s like being stuck in a block of ice – your brain can handle things, but it’s hard to speak, it’s hard to move, it changes everything.”
So that others may learn from Mark’s experience, Michael Wong, JD (Executive Director, Physician-Patient Alliance for Health & Safety) interviewed Mark. Below are highlights and key messages from this interview which took place on October 22, 2020:
Mark Didn’t Know What Afib Was, but Now You Do
Mark had never heard about Afib until it struck him. As he said in the interview, “I didn’t know what Afib was. I’d never heard of it before, and all of a sudden, it’s an irregular heartbeat in my case and I take medication for it, but it was a surprise to me when the doctor said atrial fibrillation. Again, I never heard of it before. Now, I really know what it is.”
And so now that you’ve heard about Afib, ask your doctor about Afib and how to get tested for Afib – and, it’s a simple and painless procedure: “Typically, afib is diagnosed by a simple EKG or ECG (electrocardiogram) where several electrodes are placed on your skin to measure and record your heart’s electrical activity in wavelengths. It is painless and takes only a few minutes as you lie down for the test to be administered.”
Don’t Think That Afib Can’t Happen to You – Be Vigilant About Your Health
People often think that bad things won’t happen to you and it’s going to happen to someone else. Mark cautions against thinking that “bad things will happen to someone else and then one day guess what, my friend, they happened to me. I always say, you rarely if ever hear “lucky” and “stroke” in the same sentence. I’ve been lucky … I had no idea this was out there and that it would affect me .. I’m here to scream from the top of the highest trees, go check it out! It’s better to say “no, you don’t have to worry about that,” but if you do, again, it’s something that can be corrected and you can live with it, but, again, you have to be vigilant about your health.”
Don’t Delay Seeing Your Doctor – Doctors’ Offices are Safe, Even During COVID
In a recent survey of its followers, the Physician-Patient Alliance for Health & Safety found that many patients have delayed or not seen a doctor because of COVID-19. Fear of getting COVID-19 is particularly high in patients with Afib and other cardiovascular diseases – more than nine of ten (92%) of whom were extremely concerned or moderately concerned. As a result, more than half of the respondents with Afib or cardiovascular disease reported that they had delayed or not gone to see a doctor during this COVID pandemic (53%). Studies have found that patients have delayed seeing a doctor, resulting in more at-home heart attacks and delayed ED visits during the COVID-19 pandemic. Such delays are particularly significant for patients with atrial fibrillation or other cardiovascular diseases because such patients are at a higher risk of a heart attack.
“Like everyone else, Mike, I was afraid, scared to see the doctor. I had my medication, I could have it – when it ran out – go to CVS, they would call my physician, fill up my medication, but I had to go in.
“Mike, it’s hard for people to go in, but I’ll tell you this, doctors’ offices might be one of the safest places to go, because they’re busy wiping down things – wear your mask, wash your hands, all that – they are on the forefront of being safe.
“If you go to, say, Home Depot or you go to Target, it’s a bit different than going to your doctor’s office. They’re more aware of safety when going to the doctor’s office. I would tell people ‘don’t be afraid to go into your doctor’s office.’”
You Can’t Forget Your Anniversary, You Can’t Forget Your Wife’s Birthday – Don’t Forget to Take Your Medications
Low adherence to physician-prescribed medications has consistently been observed across all classes of medications and disease states – about half of patients with chronic diseases do not take their medications as prescribed by their physicians. Medication non-adherence may especially have serious consequences with cardiovascular patients. This is particularly the case with those patients diagnosed with Afib.
From the interview with Michael Wong and Mark McEwen:
Mark – “So, I have that case where it says “Monday,” “Tuesday,” “Wednesday,” “Thursday” where I put all of my pills. So, every morning I make sure I take all my pills. And, with my blood thinner, I have to take it twice a day, so I have a smaller “Monday,” “Tuesday,” “Wednesday,” “Thursday” right next to my bed, so after dinner I take the other pill for my Afib.
There’s a couple of things you can’t forget – you can’t forget your anniversary, you can’t forget your wife’s birthday.
Mike – Not if you want to stay married for long.
Mark – Exactly! Exactly! And, you can’t forget your medication, you can’t do that. You can forget what day it is, you can forget to take the dog out, but try hard not to forget your medication … Be part of the solution, because you don’t want your forgetfulness to be part of the problem.
To listen to the interview, please go to the PPAHS YouTube Channel.
For a transcript of the interview, please click here.
To read more about Mark’s experience, please go to Mark McEwen’s website.