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National Orange Popsicle Week Comes to Knoxville to Raise Stroke Awareness


Learn more about stroke from staff at University of Tennessee Medical Center and join in recognizing National Orange Popsicle Week from noon to 7 p.m. May 19 at Pop Culture, Knoxville’s gourmet popsicle shop.

“I love the simple and straightforward idea of taking something I love doing and being a part of—making popsicles—and using it as a basis for education,” said Jason Mitchell, Pop Culture’s owner. “It’s so much easier to learn and be receptive to awareness when you hare having fun.”

National Orange Popsicle Week (NOPW) began as a way for a young woman who suffered a major brain stem stroke at age 24 to raise awareness of stroke in young people. One in five strokes occurs in adults age 22 to 55. Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in America and a leading cause of adult disability, according to the National Stroke Association.

UT Medical Center, which the American Heart Association has recognized for improving stroke care by promoting consistent adherence to the latest scientific treatment guidelines, will be providing free blood pressure screenings and stroke education during the popsicle-based awareness event.

A stroke occurs when there is an interruption in blood flow from the heart to the brain, causing brain cells to die. The May 19 popsicle event at Pop Culture will raise funds to purchase iPads for the UT Stroke Center’s use in aphasia treatment. Aphasia is a disorder caused by damage to the parts of the brain that control language. Aphasia can result in difficulties reading, writing and speaking.

“Stroke is a devastating disease: it happens like a tornado and the lives of the survivor and their families are never the same,” said Jennifer Henry, BSN, RN, CNRN, director of the UT Stroke Center. “Many people mistakenly believe that stroke only happens when people are older, when in fact, stroke can happen at any age. It's critically important that people take a look at their own risk factors and take steps to reduce risk. Everyone, even children, can learn to recognize the warning signs of stroke and the importance of calling 911 when stroke symptoms happen. NOPW shares this message in a unique way.”

Amy Wooddell’s first symptoms were dizziness and nausea, which didn’t neatly fit the acronym FAST, which is used to recognize and act on stroke symptoms—Face: does one side of the person’s face droop? Arms: if the person raises both arms, does one arm drift downward? Speech: does the person’s speech seem slurred or strange? Time: if any of these symptoms are observed, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Wooddell went to the emergency room only to be given medication for vertigo and sent home. The next morning she felt worse. The cause was a dissected vertebral artery, one of the major arteries leading to the brain. Doctors were unable to treat the dissection, and Wooddell later that night suffered a brain hemorrhage and lapsed into a coma. When she woke up days later, she was paralyzed and unable to speak.

Wooddell’s recovery was arduous, including 30 days in the intensive care unit. As she became more vocal, she finally was able to tell her new husband that she loved him—and that she wanted an orange popsicle.

However, Wooddell wasn’t allowed solid foods—even a popsicle—until she passed a swallowing capability test while in an inpatient rehab unit. The day she did was a victory, and her rehab caseworker bought an entire box of orange popsicles for Wooddell and her family. The orange popsicle was a much craved delight after nothing but water and liquid nutrition and became a symbol of recovery.

Fellow young stroke survivor, Sarah E. Kucharski learned about National Orange Popsicle Week through social media. The mission and the method resonated with her. Like Wooddell, Kucharski had a stroke at age 27 that was first diagnosed as vertigo, despite having a complicated vascular history. She spent a week in the hospital with extreme dizziness, double vision, and the inability to walk unaided. Nonetheless she was told that her symptoms would go away as quickly as they had developed and sent home with a walker.

It wasn’t until the first night out of the hospital that Kucharski’s discovered that she had no temperature or pain sensation on the right side of her body. She consulted with her primary care doctor who referred her to a neurologist who immediately said that, given her symptoms and Horner’s syndrome causing her left eye to droop, her case was “a text book” stroke scenario.

Kucharski’s recovery was self-driven, and it took another four years for her to finally receive the diagnosis of fibromuscular dysplasia (FMD), a rare vascular disease that can cause narrowing of the arteries, arterial dissection, aneurysm, and stroke. Kucharski has a rare version of the rare disease, which has no cure, and no real treatment other than management of symptoms and surgical repair of the effected arteries. She has used her own experiences as motivation to found an international nonprofit organization dedicated to those affected by fibromuscular dysplasia—FMD Chat.

While Kucharski and Wooddell share similar stroke stories—and a love of popsicles—they don’t share geography. Wooddell lives in Kansas, and Kucharski lives in Western North Carolina. NOPW may be rooted in Kansas, but strokes strike all around the world, so once Kucharski learned of NOPW, she wanted to get involved.

As managing editor of magazine dedicated to the Southern Appalachian region, Smoky Mountain Living, Kucharski got to know Knoxville through her work travels. She had read about Pop Culture and visited the mobile popsicle vendor’s bricks-and-mortar shop on Walnut Street last year. With the goal of bringing NOPW to the region, she reached out to Pop Culture’s owner.

“You should check out this event. If there’s anyone who could make it happen in Knoxville, it’s you,” she wrote to Mitchell on the Pop Culture Facebook page.

Mitchell’s response was enthusiastic. He immediately offered up the Pop Culture shop where he makes and sells his famous popsicles using ingredients from local vendors, milk without rBGH growth hormones, and sweeteners such as organic cane sugar, honey, or agave. He’s even put extra effort into making the color orange.

“It took me months to find something natural, and a company out of Louisville, Ky. formulated some orange coloring out of Beta-Carotene for me to use, and it's odorless and tasteless,” Mitchell said.

For NOPW, Mitchell will be serving up his Orange Cream and Mango popsicles, but he isn’t afraid to get creative.

“I may make something else that is orange, but I have to play around a bit with the ingredients and their respective colors to see if something else ‘Orange’ is possible,” Mitchell said. “The bright red of Strawberry Lemonade or the robust purple of Blueberry Vanilla would be immune to adding natural orange color.”

Pop Culture is located at 706 Walnut Street next to the Knox County Public Library, Connect via Facebook at facebook.com/popcultureknox. To learn more about National Orange Popsicle Week, visit nopw.org or facebook.com/nationaorangepopsicleweek.

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