Ben-Yizri balks at battling strokes

Health minister noncommital when it comes to educating the public about early warning signs of the debilitating disease.

yaakov ben-yizri 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
yaakov ben-yizri 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Although the middle aged and elderly sent his Gil Pensioners Party to the Knesset, Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri was noncommital when, at the launching of Stroke Awareness Month on Monday, it was suggested that his ministry finance ongoing, year-round TV public service announcements to educate the public about the early warning signs of the catastrophic disease. The 78-year-old Ben-Yizri, whose 67-year-old brother suffered a debilitating stroke over a year ago and whose father died after his second "brain attack," would say only that more effort should be invested in "educating children in schools" about how to avoid a variety of health problems, including stroke. He was speaking in his office to representatives of Ne'eman, a voluntary organization established by patients and their families to increase awareness of stroke, which hits 15,000 Israelis out of the blue every year, including former prime minister Ariel Sharon and 5,000 people aged 30 to 65. About 10 percent of stroke victims die soon after, while a quarter to a third die within a year of the stroke; another third, like Sharon, remain in a coma or otherwise seriously incapacitated and unable to return to work or normal life; the rest recover most of their functions. Prof. Nathan Bornstein, chairman of the Sourasky Medical Center's neurology department and head of its stroke unit, told the minister that stroke is the third largest killer, after cancer and heart disease, of Israelis, and that while in the past, there was little that could be done to prevent serious disability after a stroke, today, clotbusting drugs can do so if administered shortly after the first symptoms appear. Stroke is the greatest cause of disability in the adult population, he said, and it puts a major economic, health and social burden not only on the economy but also on victims and their families. Heading off stroke by preventing and properly treating high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol levels is vital, said Bornstein, who urged active and comprehensive educational efforts among the public on the causes, symptoms, dangers and treatment of stroke. A program that reduces ignorance about it, added Bornstein, would minimize the incidence of brain attacks. Ne'eman, founded a decade ago, has collected donations from pharmaceutical companies, private donors and the Health Ministry for a modest Awareness Month campaign via the organization's Web site (at and advertisements in the media. Surveys have shown that even after Sharon's ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes, many Israelis know little about the types, the early warning signs days or weeks before including momentary loss of feeling in limbs or the ability to speak, and the signs of an acute stroke, sudden numbness or weakness in the face, an arm or leg; sudden confusion in the form of difficulty in speaking or understanding; difficulty in expressing or comprehending words; slurring; sudden trouble seeing through one or both eyes or double vision; unexpected trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination; an abrupt, severe headache with no known cause; or a sudden decline in consciousness.