Creating a Generation of Stroke Heroes in South Jersey

When Josh St. Jean asked his after school students how many of them thought strokes only happened to older people, nearly every hand in the room shot up.

Unfortunately, stroke can happen to anyone at any time. The good news is stroke is largely preventable, treatable and beatable.

That’s why the American Heart Association teamed up with the Cumberland Cape Atlantic YMCA (CCA YMCA) before and after school program to teach more than 1,000 K-8 students at 25 schools in Cumberland, Salem and Atlantic counties how to recognize a stroke and get help FAST.

A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted. Without oxygen-rich blood, brain cells die. About 2 million brain cells die per minute during a stroke emergency. When it comes to stroke, time is brain.

The CCA YMCA is collaborating with the American Heart Association with a commitment to increase stroke education in youth by providing education in their programs. The CCA YMCA before and after school program utilized a 20-minute lesson plan provided by the American Heart Association which teaches students about stroke prevention and recognition through fun and interactive activities as well as take-home information to share with friends and family.

For a majority of stroke cases, someone other than the patient makes the decision to seek treatment. That’s why it’s so important to train bystanders on how to recognize a stroke and get help as soon as possible.

The good news is, stroke is largely treatable if a patient receives help fast. The acronym F.A.S.T. is used to help recognize the most common stroke symptoms:

  • F – face drooping
  • A – arm weakness
  • S – speech difficulty
  • T – time to call 9-1-1

According to the Association, recognition of the F.A.S.T. acronym has steadily increased from 24% to 47% awareness since 2013. This means 47% are at least somewhat familiar with F.A.S.T.

“We’re so happy to work with the American Heart Association to be able to participate in this class with the students to distribute information about stroke awareness,” stated St. Jean. “The curriculum with the catchy hero theme and FAST education was easy to understand and distribute. I learned so much as an adult and was happy to share this with the students.”

The program consisted of a 20-minute lesson on stroke and FAST recognition followed by word games and an interactive quiz and finished with an exercise to demonstrate stroke empathy. Students were presented with different tasks that simulated a stroke victim’s symptoms – face drooping, arm weakness and speech difficulty. The exercise also emphasized the importance of physical activity in preventing strokes.

In fact, according the Association, moderate to vigorous physical activity may reduce stroke risk by 25%. In addition, approximately 80% of first strokes can be prevented by following simple lifestyle modifications: don’t smoke, be physically active, eat a healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight, and control cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar.

“The American Heart Association’s lesson plan was easy for our staff to implement and communicate the importance of stroke recognition to youth,” Graceanne Schwegel, Sr. Program Director of School Age Childcare and Camp, Cumberland Cape Atlantic YMCA. “Understanding what to do in a stroke emergency is one example of how the CCA YMCA is committed to building a generation of youth that is healthy and prepared to serve their community moving forward.”

To learn more about how you can be a stroke hero and for tips on living a healthy lifestyle, visit

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