Dr. Talya Fleming has always been a medical force of sorts. Stretching back to her high school years as a star athlete, she was often injured. She saw firsthand the interconnectivity between the bones and muscles. Her curiosity grew, and she delved deeper into just how the human body worked.
As the Medical Director of several outpatient programs at JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute at Hackensack Meridian Health based in Edison, NJ, Fleming is one of just a handful of African American female physicians in the state specializing in stroke recovery therapy. She develops, implements, and oversees the operations at the facility at the Stroke Recovery, the Aftercare, and the Post-COVID Rehabilitation Programs. In addition, she’s a Clinical Associate Professor at Rutgers-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and an Associate Professor at Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine.
Dr. Fleming said about a quarter of all stroke survivors would have a repeat stroke. “Just by having a stroke, you’re already at risk for having another one,” she said. “For most people, high blood pressure is the risk factor that could be the biggest gamechanger in preventing the risk for having another stroke.” Furthermore, she mentions that women, heart disease and stroke are the most significant disease group for women in general, especially for racial and ethnic minority women. (As a woman and woman of color) “I wanted to make sure that for my patients, I feel like I have a unique opportunity to have a special connection with them,” she said. “I want to translate the medical knowledge into real-world examples to help reduce their risk of having a repeat event or having to be hospitalized.”
According to the American Heart Association, about 55% of Black adults have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension or HPB. Black people also have disproportionately high rates of more severe HBP that develops earlier in life. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health reports that African Americans are 50% more likely to have a stroke than their white adult counterparts. Stroke patients’ risk factors are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, and an irregular heartbeat, which vastly affect the Black and Hispanic/Latino communities. “Strokes attack the brain similar to a heart attack,” she said. “As soon as you get to the hospital and get treatment, the more brain cells we can try to save and prevent further damage.” To help people remember stroke warning signs, Dr. Fleming advises them to memorize the pneumonic,
Balance: If you have trouble standing upright.
Eyes: Blurred or distorted vision
Face: If you have drooping on one side of your face or your face feels uneven.
Arm: If you’re experiencing arm weakness or weakness on one side of the body compared to the other.
Speech: If you have difficulty finding the right words or are talking, the words are coming out slurred.
Time: Time to call 911 immediately so they can take you to the hospital and you can receive early treatment.
Early stroke treatment includes doctor-prescribed medications, emergent brain surgery, or time in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) or Specialized Stroke Unit during those first several days post-stroke. Afterward, patients commence rehabilitation therapy–inpatient or outpatient.
(In part 2 of her interview with N.J. Urban News, Dr. Fleming will discuss COVID-19 treatment and recovery)