After 22 years of witnessing how strokes kill and cripple thousands of people, Dr. Luke Kao has decided to attack the assailant by opening what is believed to be the world's first stroke prevention centers in Columbia and Owings Mills.
On Monday, Kao opened the Stroke Prevention Program at Howard County General Hospital in Columbia, where he is a neurologist, and the Maryland Neurological Center Stroke Prevention Program in Owings Mills.
The centers, which are privately financed and cost $300,000 each,were established to reduce a person's chances of stroke by identifying their risk factors early and allowing them to modify their behaviors, said Kao.
Kao, 50, who has practiced neurology for 22 years, also is an assistant professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins Medical School.
"There has never been a dedicated (stroke prevention) program anywhere in the world," he said. "I'm a little surprised that other neurologists, other major medical centers, aren't doing it because it is an important thing to do."
Each year, strokes attack 500,000 Americans, killing about one-third and severely disabling the rest. Only a small number fully recover.
Stroke is the third-leadingcause of death among Americans and the top cause of disabilities among adults. Strokes cost the country more than $50 billion a year.
It was two years ago that Kao developed the idea after seeing the deadly and disabling affects of strokes. He thought that if the warning signs could be detected early, lives could be saved and disabilities avoided.
The stroke prevention program is an extension of servicesfor stroke patients at the Maryland Neurological Center, where he ischief.
The concept is similar to preventive steps that cardiologists take, Kao said.
Gary Houser, vice president of the Colorado-based National Stroke Association, said he hasn't heard of another stroke prevention program. "It's a very good idea," he said. "It needs todone."
Stroke is "America's most neglected disease," Houser said."A stroke can happen at any time, and that's why it's important to learn the symptoms of a stroke."
People at high risk are those withhigh blood pressure, heart disease, vascular disease, obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol levels.
Others include those who have hadprevious strokes, have a family history of strokes, smoke, use birthcontrol pills or drink excessive alcohol.
Nine neurologists, a registered nurse and five vascular technologists will staff the centersfrom 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Kao said. He predicts that they will see about 50 patients a month.
Patients will be charged between $200 to $300 for the visits.
In the program, doctors will interview patientsand review their medical histories. Patients also may be examined and counseled on stroke, its symptoms and causes. Some may have follow-up visits, and the program's doctors may contact their personal physicians.
Two pre-emptive measures are altering diets or prescribing medications, Dr. Kao said.
The fee patients are charged, Kao said,is only "one-one thousandth" of the cost of all medical bills associated with a stroke. A stroke patient, who sometimes loses his or her job, incurs between $20,000 and $50,000 in medical bills, he said.