BOSTON (SHNS) – Senate President Karen Spilka never expected she would be the keynote speaker for a stroke awareness event, but about six months removed from being diagnosed with a stroke herself Spilka is calling attention to less-discussed symptoms and is hopeful her colleagues might advance stroke care legislation.
The Senate president had what she said was a “mild stroke” on Nov. 15, the day she was supposed to travel to the White House for a bill signing ceremony. With a “really, really bad headache,” Spilka headed to the airport for the trip but later decided to head back home and then to the hospital.
“I did not know that I was having a stroke. You would mostly hear the symptoms: droopy face slurred speech. My speech at that time was as clear as it is right now. So I did not know what was going on,” Spilka said Monday during a policy forum hosted by the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans. She added, “I thought it was, as I said, important to share that with the public in terms of stroke awareness. Again, it was not something that I thought was the typical symptoms for a stroke.”
On the day of Spilka’s stroke, her communications aide said that she had decided not to travel because she was ill. Her office in December told the News Service that Spilka was working remotely following her illness, and then on Dec. 20 Spilka disclosed her stroke in a televised interview.
Someone in the United States has a stroke every 40 seconds and someone dies of a stroke every three and a half minutes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Annually, strokes affect more than 795,000 people across the country and stroke-related costs in the U.S. totaled nearly $53 billion from 2017 to 2018.
The Joint Committee on Public Health has secured an extension until Dec. 31 to weigh in on legislation (H 2253/S 1477) that would charge the Department of Public Health with developing criteria for designating hospitals into a tiered system based on their ability to treat strokes at different severity levels. The Senate last year unanimously passed a version of the bill, but House leaders did not bring it to the floor for a vote and it died in the House Ways and Means Committee.
“Time is a critical factor when seeking treatment for stroke patients and this potentially life-saving bill would better prepare our health care system and our residents so that we are doing it in the most safe and efficient way possible,” Spilka said Monday. Later, she added, “The Senate hopefully will redouble their efforts in getting some of that bill or all of it passed. Because again, if we could save one person’s life that will make it worthwhile.”