Guest Opinions

The truth about strokes on World Stroke Day

About 800,000 people in the United States have a stroke every year, and someone dies from one every four minutes.

On Jan. 10, 2012, I had a stroke. And three days later, while in the hospital, I suffered a massive stroke. My right arm was partially paralyzed. I couldn’t speak or write. I did not know my own name.

Before my strokes, I was a lot like you — a busy dad, working hard to support my family, and I thought I was in good health. I was an elected official as a board member at the College of Western Idaho and executive director of the Associated General Contractors, a large trade association. I was a prominent state lobbyist and educator. I was a master multitasker, making presentations and speeches throughout the nation. Even more importantly, I was a husband and the father of a 6-year-old boy.

The truth is stroke is the world’s second-leading cause of death and No. 5 in the United States. It’s also a leading cause of long-term disability — though largely preventable and treatable. Fewer than one in 10 people know what each F.A.S.T. letter means, and one in three people can’t name any stroke signs, according to American Stroke Association studies.

As part of World Stroke Day today, the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association is urging Idahoans to learn the warning signs of stroke. Personally, I can’t emphasize enough the value of knowing the signs of stroke — it happened to me, and it could happen to you or a loved one.

F.A.S.T. has four sudden signs of stroke. When you spot any of the four signs, call 911 for help right away. F.A.S.T. is:

▪ Face Drooping: Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person’s smile uneven?

▪ Arm Weakness: Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

▪ Speech Difficulty: Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, such as “The sky is blue.” Is the sentence repeated correctly?

▪ Time to call 911: If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 911 and get the person to the hospital immediately. Check the time so you’ll know when the first symptoms appeared.

After my strokes, I endured years of intense occupational, physical, speech and vision therapy. At the time, I thought life was over. It’s a daily struggle, but with the support of my family and friends, I have overcome many odds. I am so grateful for my second chance in life.

Today I am still on the board of the College of Western Idaho, and was appointed by Gov. Butch Otter to serve on the Board of Commissioners Idaho Housing and Finance Association. I’ve also become a strong advocate for stroke prevention and awareness.

If you remember one point from my story, please remember this: A stroke is devastating and it can happen to anyone. Know the four F.A.S.T. signs of stroke — it could save your life or a loved one’s.

To learn more information about the symptoms and warning signs of stroke, please visit

Mark P. Dunham is on the board of the Idaho American Heart and Stroke Association. He lives in Boise.