ThedaCare encourages families to teach kids how to recognize stroke symptoms

When Dennis Clow, 61, had a stroke in 2017, his 13-year-old grandson, who was home alone with him, immediately wanted to call 9-1-1. Clow, who was in denial that he was having a stroke, told his grandson not to call. His grandson knew the right thing to do was to get his grandfather emergency care.

“Many children spend a lot of time with their grandparents, so the possibility of them witnessing a grandparent or other adult having a stroke is not unlikely,” said Thomas Mattio, PhD, MD, neurologist with the Neuroscience Group and medical director of the ThedaCare Stroke Center. “For that reason, it’s important to teach young people to recognize the symptoms of a stroke and train them to call 9-1-1 immediately if they think an adult or even another child is having a stroke.”

Dr. Mattio emphasized that the first three hours after a stroke are called the golden window. “Stroke victims who are treated within that timeframe have a better survival rate and possibly less long-term disability,” he said. “It’s better to be safe than wait too long to take action.”

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is currently funding a program called Hip Hop Stroke that teaches kids in grades four through sixth the FAST acronym to help them recognize a stroke: F = Face – is it drooping or twisted?; A = Arm – is it drooping or the person can’t move it?; S = Speech – is the person slurring their speech?; T = Time – if these symptoms are present, it time to call 9-1-1.

A spokesperson for the program said, “Children leave us with an understanding of what a stroke is, how it occurs in the body, how to recognize the symptoms of a stroke and what to do in a stroke event.”

Dr. Mattio said kids can suffer strokes, too. According to the NIH, stroke is a leading cause of death in children. The symptoms of a stroke in kids and teens can be different than those for adults.

Symptoms can include: Seizures; headaches, possibly with vomiting; sudden paralysis or weakness on one side of the body; language or speech delays or changes, such as slurring; trouble swallowing; vision problems, such as blurred or double vision; tendency to not use one of the arms or hands; tightness or restricted movement in the arms and legs; trouble with schoolwork; memory loss; sudden mood or behavioral changes.

“We believe that focusing on teaching kids how to recognize a stroke, in an adult or another child can help reduce the number of deaths caused by strokes as well as lower long-term disabilities,” said Dr. Mattio. “Again, anything that gets a stroke victim attention within the ‘golden window’ is a move in the right direction.”

Dr. Mattio feels teaching children about strokes and how they affect a person’s mind and body is also important. “When a child sees a grandparent, neighbor or other adult struggling because they’ve had a stroke – not being able to walk normally or having difficulty speaking – it can be distressing for the child,” he explained. “It’s important to help them understand what’s happening to that adult. Strokes happen so suddenly; a person can be fine one day and then have significant stroke effects the next day. That can be confusing to kids, so talking with them about strokes helps them understand what happened.”


For Dennis Clow, his wife arrived home a few minutes after his stroke occurred and immediately took him to ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah, where he was treated and recovered.