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The other stroke victim

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By Scotty McDaniel

May is National Stroke Awareness Month, and Becky Carignan wants to get the word out - a stroke is not restricted by age.

Carignan, of Simpsonville, has seen the effects that strokes have on young people first hand. Her daughter Cassidy survived a stroke 4 1/2 years ago - while still in the womb.

Active in her quest to raise awareness about childhood strokes, Carignan is vice president of the Regional Infant and Childhood Hemiplegia Stroke Survivors organization. The non-profit organization was created to raise money to provide financial assistance and education for affected families in the Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio area. The organization also funds research and camps for young stroke victims.

The elderly are more likely to have strokes, but according to RICHSS, people don't realize that 12 percent of infants or children die each year from strokes, and up to 35 percent of infant stroke survivors will have another stroke at some point. Children who have sickle cell anemia, congenital heart defects or blood clotting difficulties are at a higher risk of having a stroke.

These are facts that Carignan said shouldn't be ignored.

"These kids face lifelong problems. They're going to need occupational therapy, speech therapy, therapy depending on the degree of the stroke," she said. "Some will be in wheelchairs for rest of their life. Most are always going to have some disability."

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is blocked or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts and bleeds out into the brain. Symptoms include sudden numbness and loss of strength, often on one side of the body, as well as trouble speaking, seeing, or standing.

To diagnose a stroke, doctors may use blood tests, CT scans, MRI scans, Doppler ultrasound, or arteriography.

Some of the after-effects of strokes include seizures, hemiplegia, hemiparesis, hypotonia, cerebral palsy and vision problems.

Carignan said she saw early on that that Cassidy wasn't developing like other children.

"She wasn't reaching her milestones like any other child should," she said. "She wasn't putting weight on her right foot. She was always curling her toes and her right arm was always on her right side."

At 18 months old, an MRI revealed the life-changing news. Cassidy had cerebral palsy and right side hemiplegia. With cerebral palsy, voluntary muscular control and coordination is lost, and hemiplegia is essentially paralysis of one half of the body.

Now, Cassidy goes to physical therapy twice a month, occupational therapy once a month, and is in gymnastics to help strengthen her right hand and leg.

Child stroke victims may be referred to all kinds of therapy, such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, aquatic therapy, alternative therapies, botox, hippotherapy (Horseback riding therapy) and message therapy.

The RICHSS organization's next scheduled fundraising event is a Poker Run on May 10th, 2008 at the Newburgh Dam in Newburgh, IN. Registration starts at 10 a.m.

For more information, visit www.richssorganization.org.

"I think we've helped myself and other children's parents know a little more about what causes strokes, and what we can do for the kids as far as therapies that will help them lead an easier life," Carignan said.