The Triton


Slurring and numbness may be a stroke


Today I turned on the news and saw that country/western singer Randy Travis suffered a stroke while in the hospital for a separate medical issue. Travis is 54 and yes, strokes can happen to younger people, even younger than 54.

Do you know how to recognize a stroke? Do you know how to treat a stroke? What would you do if, in the middle of the day, one of your crew mates began to slur his words and appeared confused, not walking well and not making much sense? Your crew mate might be having a stroke.

A stroke is the brain’s version of a heart attack, and it is a life-threatening medical emergency that can cause paralysis, coma and death.

A stroke occurs when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel, interrupting blood flow to an area of the brain (ischemic stroke) or an artery bursts and blood leaks into brain tissue (hemorrhagic stroke).

When either of these occurs, brain cells begin to die and brain damage occurs. Where the damage to the brain occurs and how much of the brain is damaged will determine which symptoms the person will display. Here are typical symptoms you may observe:

Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body;

Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding;

Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes;

Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination; or

Sudden, severe headache with no known cause.

It should be noted that women may experience unique stroke symptoms that include sudden face and limb pain, sudden hiccups, sudden nausea, sudden general weakness, sudden chest pain, sudden shortness of breath, and sudden palpitation.

If you think someone may be having a stroke, act F.A.S.T.

F. Check the Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

A. Check the Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

S. Check Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?

T. Check the time: If the person exhibits any of these symptoms, call emergency help immediately. And though not part of the official “steps”, note the time when symptoms first began. There is only about a three-hour window for a clot-busting medication to be given at the hospital. Get the stroke victim to a hospital as quickly as possible.

A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is called a warning stroke or mini-stroke. This type of stroke produces stroke-like symptoms but generally has no lasting damage.

Recognizing and treating TIAs may reduce a person’s risk of a major stroke. Often TIA symptoms are the same as those of stroke, only temporary. The short duration of these symptoms and lack of permanent brain injury is the main difference between TIA and stroke.

The best way to help a person that may be having a stroke is recognizing what is happening and getting that person to a hospital as quickly as possible. Stay with the victim, place them in a position of comfort, and monitor their breathing and consciousness.

To learn more about stroke warning signs and other medical emergencies, take a CPR, AED and First Aid class, and follow up with a refresher class at least every two years. Classes can often be conducted on site, on the yacht, or in a conveniently located business.

Shipboard classes are particularly helpful for yacht crew because it allows them to develop plans, review first aid supplies, and walk through medical emergencies as they might play out onboard, giving each crew member an opportunity to drill different scenarios.

The American Heart Association has a good 60-second video that everyone should watch and share with a friend. Those 60 seconds may help you save someone’s life. Visit, click on the FAST icon and scroll down to the “F.A.S.T. Body Language PSA” video on the left.


Keith Murray, a former firefighter EMT, owns The CPR School, a first-aid training company that provides onboard training for yacht captains and crew, and sells and services AEDs. Contact him at 877-6-AED-CPR, 877-623-3277 or Comments on this column are welcome at

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