The Stroke Awareness Foundation (SAF) announced a new board member June 30 who is expected to bolster the organization’s efforts to inform communities of the signs associated with the devastating disease.
Chris Wilder, the former executive director of the Valley Medical Center Foundation, is joining the Board of Directors.
He suffered a stroke in March 2021 and knows firsthand the value of an early intervention.
“My wife recognized the signs right away and called 911,” Wilder said. “The paramedics who arrived knew that I needed to go not just to any hospital but to an accredited stroke center. Both of those decisions saved my life.”
The same was true for Chuck Toeniskoetter, who founded SAF after experiencing a stroke himself in 2001.
“Recognizing the symptoms of stroke and getting to the right hospital—my survival and recovery hinged on those early determinations,” Toeniskoetter said. “We want to make sure that everyone has the same essential information that can save your life or the life of someone you love.”
Since its founding in 2001, SAF has spread the word about knowing the signs of stroke, created a network of accredited stroke centers, and even developed an app that works anywhere in the United States to help in case of a stroke emergency.
“Stroke is survivable, but every second counts,” said Noemi Conway, SAF’s executive director.
Non-English speakers account for half of all strokes in Santa Clara County, and there are often cultural barriers to overcome as well, according to SAF. Conway pointed out, for example, that many people in non-English-speaking communities aren’t familiar with the signs of stroke and may be reluctant to call 911 or ride in an ambulance.
SAF has doubled down on its outreach, offering information on its website in six languages. It has also pumped up its messaging campaign to underserved areas with a $250,000 grant from the Santa Clara Family Health Plan.
Building on its outreach program to the Hispanic community, which drew an additional 20,000 Spanish speakers to the Foundation’s website, SAF is now expanding its stroke awareness advocacy to Asian audiences, with a targeted media campaign in Vietnamese and Mandarin.
“We are proud to support the Stroke Awareness Foundation in their continuing efforts to combat a leading cause of death and disability. Our shared goal is to ensure everyone has access to life-saving information, regardless of the language they speak,” said Christine M. Tomcala, CEO of Santa Clara Family Health Plan. “We applaud SAF’s initiative to provide culturally competent awareness and education outreach in Spanish, Vietnamese and Chinese, primary languages spoken by many residents of our community.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though stroke death rates have declined for decades among all races/ethnicities, Hispanics have seen an increase in death rates since 2013.
Patients who arrive at the emergency room within three hours of their first symptoms often have less disability three months after a stroke than those who received delayed care, the CDC states.
Wilder is eager to leverage his professional experience to ensure that stroke awareness reaches the broadest possible audience, but he also hopes to inspire others with his own personal journey.
“Rehab is hard work,” he said. “There are some days when you don’t want to do it, but you do it anyway. I’m lucky to have a great team and friends and family who motivate me, but it’s my job to put in the work. That’s the message I got from other stroke survivors and the message I’d like to share, along with the optimism that there are brighter days ahead.”
The Stroke Awareness Foundation’s 11th Annual Fight Stroke Walk will take place Oct. 23 at the San Jose Rose Garden.
For information, visit strokeinfo.org.