Where does your personal passion for raising awareness of stroke come from?
It stems from a deeply personal experience that ignited my passion for raising awareness about strokes. Prior to this life-altering event, like many others, I had minimal knowledge about strokes and their critical time-sensitive nature.The turning point occurred when my beloved wife suffered a stroke in 2019, and I discovered that her chances of survival and recovery could have been significantly improved if we had reached the hospital within 4.5 hours. This revelation filled me with profound regret for not possessing the necessary information about such a crucial matter. I embarked on a journey to explore every avenue for my wife's recovery, yet despite my efforts, I felt helpless. Amidst my grief and determination to make a difference, I recognized that the least I could do to honor my wife's memory was to prevent others from enduring a similar ordeal. I was driven by a heartfelt desire to spare other husbands the agony I endured and shield other children from the suffering my own two children experienced. In pursuit of this mission, I made the difficult decision to resign from my well-paying position at a Japanese NGO. This step allowed me to channel all my energy and resources into creating awareness about the burden of strokes. I have since dedicated my efforts to educating individuals and communities about the urgency of recognizing stroke symptoms, seeking prompt medical attention, and understanding the vital time window for effective treatment.
My campaign work reflects not only a commitment to raising awareness but also a profound dedication to transforming a personal tragedy into a force for positive change. By sharing my story and advocating for stroke awareness, I aim to empower people with knowledge that could potentially save lives and prevent heart-wrenching experiences for families. The Individual Achievement award from WSO is a testament to the collective effort of many who have joined me in this cause. While I cannot change the past, I am steadfast in my determination to shape a future where stroke awareness is widespread, and lives are safeguarded through timely action.
How big an issue is stroke for the population of Bhutan?
The total population of Bhutan is 777,486 (2021) and here in Bhutan, the Constitution (article 9) states that “The State shall provide free access to basic public health services in both modern and traditional medicines.” Therefore, Bhutanese people enjoy free health services not only within the country but also abroad when referred for further treatment. However, due to the increasing number of patients and complexities of diseases, many patients do not reach hospital on time due to long travel distance and other factors. In Bhutan, about four to five stroke cases in a week are reported at the Jigme Dorji National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH). Doctors lament that stroke is an overlooked and underserved health care issue in the country which as a result there is a general lack of stroke awareness amongst the people. For example, a simple knowledge of FAST test (Facial drooping; Arm weakness; Speech difficulties; Time) can help spot a stroke.
The most important stroke treatment is time. If a person after the onset of a stroke can get medical attention within the 4.5 hour window, life can be saved or limit a stroke’s impact. In Bhutan doctors have noted that there is delay in patients coming to the hospitals. Further, not many in the country are aware of the financial, social and emotional burden of a stroke on individual stroke survivors and their families and friends. The stroke patients particularly from poor family backgrounds are condemned to life of seclusion, isolation, total neglect and immense suffering. There is a general lack of post-stroke rehabilitation facilities and services for the stroke patients. One of the biggest challenges is lack of prioritized funding due to the lack of a proper plan and policy for stroke care in the country. Not many support funding for operational costs and to conduct awareness programs on the stroke burden.
Tell us about your biggest challenge and your biggest achievement in your effort to raise stroke awareness in Bhutan?
Our biggest challenge is lack of funding and social support compared to other diseases like HIV, TB and malaria in Bhutan. Personally, I feel stroke is still not a public or state concern - due to the lack of evidence based data compared to HIV/AIDS,TB and malaria. When there is no such national policy or goals for stroke, it is very challenging to work. Other factors like lack of human resources and not much project funding to support operational costs, are the biggest challenges. However, we did not stop in reaching out to unreached populations, creating awareness on general stroke burden through sharing my own personal lived experience using various platforms such social media, national TV, radio channels in all three major local languages ( Dzongkha, Tshangla & Lhosa) and reaching the international community through WSO and receiving this award is the biggest achievement, not only for me and foundation but also for the my country - Bhutan.
What are some the highlights for you from World Stroke day 2022?
Awareness Campaigns: World Stroke Day 2022 witnessed a remarkable surge in awareness campaigns worldwide. Communities, organizations, and individuals joined hands to raise awareness about stroke prevention, risk factors, and early recognition. The outpouring of support demonstrated a collective commitment to reducing the global burden of stroke.
Innovative Virtual Events: In response to the ongoing global situation, many events were hosted or available virtually, enabling broader participation and engagement. Webinars, online seminars, and virtual workshops were available to reach a diverse audience, fostering insightful discussions on stroke-related topics and advancements in treatment and rehabilitation which was very much helpful.
Advocacy Initiatives: World Stroke Day served as a platform to advocate for improved stroke care policies and strategies. Many regions and countries like Bhutan used this platform to initiate our own discussions on enhancing healthcare systems, ensuring timely access to treatment, and supporting stroke survivors and their families.
Personal Stories: One of the most moving aspects of World Stroke Day was the sharing of my lived experience and personal stories by stroke survivors, caregivers, and healthcare professionals during the World Stroke Day celebration. These stories provided inspiration, courage, and a sense of solidarity, reminding us all of the human impact behind the statistics.
Global Collaborations: World Stroke Day 2022 encouraged collaborations between healthcare institutions, non-governmental organizations, and government agencies. This collaborative spirit facilitated the exchange of knowledge and expertise, fostering innovative approaches to stroke prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation
Social Media Engagement: Social media platforms were buzzing with activity, with millions of posts, videos, and messages shared using the official hashtag #WorldStrokeDay. The digital landscape provided a powerful avenue to disseminate information, engage with a diverse audience, and unite individuals under a common cause.
Research Showcases: The event also featured the latest advancements in stroke research. Researchers and scientists presented groundbreaking studies and findings, shedding light on emerging therapies, diagnostic tools, and preventive strategies, offering hope for improved stroke outcomes in the future. Dr. Yangchen, one of our Technical Advisory Committee members got the chance to share her research paper on stroke in Bhutan and represent our foundation during the Global Stroke Conference in Singapore.
Global Solidarity: Perhaps the most significant highlight of World Stroke Day 2022 was the global solidarity demonstrated by people from all walks of life. From schools and workplaces to community centers and hospitals, individuals united to raise their voices against stroke, reaffirming the shared goal of a stroke-free world.
I think these highlights underscore the profound impact of World Stroke Day for not only me and my foundation, but also for all those tireless efforts of countless individuals and organizations dedicated to preventing and mitigating the effects of stroke. As we reflect on these achievements, let us remain steadfast in our commitment to promoting awareness, advocating for change, and supporting those affected by stroke, leaving no one behind in this happy society.