NEW ORLEANS — The south is called the "stroke belt" and around southeast Louisiana, "the buckle."
High blood pressure, diabetes, diet and exercise all play a role in the local high death rate from stroke.
But now a first-of-its-kind program for people in Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes could help.
For years, Barry Foulon has entertained French Quarter diners at Arnaud's, playing the banjo in a quartet. But three months ago, the music stopped.
"When I got up from the couch, I went to stand up and fell right here because my leg, left leg wasn't working," Foulon recalled of that scary moment.
His left arm and speech stopped working, too.
"A doctor was asking me, 'What year is it?' and 'Who is the President?' and that's when I got a little worried," Foulon said about his time in the emergency room.
But Foulon can keep playing his banjo today because he got to the Ochsner ER immediately to treat his stroke. And with rehab, he now is back home.
Now there's a new focus.
"When you've had your stroke and you end up at home, you're still at very high risk of still having a death as a result of that, but also a recurrent stroke," explained Dr. Ken Gaines, an Ochsner neurologist and director of the Ochsner Neuroscience Institute.
Dr. Gaines was the first in the country to get a $7 million U.S. grant to devise and execute an innovative program called Stroke Mobile.
People such as Foulon will get a year of in-home follow-up care with a specially trained nurse to teach the entire family about the major difference diet and exercise can make, to ensure they are taking the right dose of medications and to recognize a health problem before it gets bad.
"A lot of people are walking that border of having a stroke and they just don't realize it,” said Tony Batiquin, the lead nurse in the Ochsner Stroke Mobile program. “You know, it's silent. Hypertension is the pastime for New Orleans. Hypertension (high blood pressure) is incredible, the high sugar, fried food.
Batiquin likes the opportunity to be more effective by teaching patients one-on-one.
"Actually, information that just came out in the last week or so, that Mediterranean type diet does a lot to improve your stroke risk,” Dr. Gaines said. “That's not quite the diet of Louisiana I don't think.”
Nearly a dozen new jobs will help monitor potential red flags. People in a designated area of the hospital, called stroke central, can coordinate care and communication with all the medical teams.
It's like a 24-hour hotline with telecommunication to patients. Nurses will help with quitting smoking and weight loss, two major contributors to strokes.
For Foulon, it's a second chance.
"Yeah, when you come that close, you know, truly, one day at a time now, you know. And every day is good," Foulon said about living life to its fullest and appreciating every day.
Dr. Gaines said 85 percent of stroke patients have complications afterwards and that is what the Stroke Mobile team is trying to prevent.
Batiquin said people are enthusiastic about starting a good diet and exercising program right after having a stroke but then slack off. He hopes to change that.
This program is for people who live in Jefferson Parish or St. Tammany Parish who end up at Ochsner after having a stroke.
For more: www.ochsner.org/stroke or call 504-842-3980.