CBS Reporter Serene Branson Appears to Have Stroke on Live TV

Serene Branson slurred and jumbled her words; some wonder if she had a stroke.

February 14, 2011, 3:30 PM

Feb. 14, 2011— -- The video was difficult and upsetting to watch. As Serene Branson, a young and healthy-looking CBS Los Angeles reporter, delivered a live report from the red carpet of the Grammy awards Sunday night, her speech suddenly became slurred and incomprehensible. She appeared increasingly worried and aware that something was wrong while she was on the air.

Mike Nelson,a CBS spokesman, gave the following statement: "Serene Branson was examined by paramedics on scene immediately after her broadcast. Her vital signs were normal. She was not hospitalized. As a precautionary measure, a colleague gave her a ride home and she says that she is feeling fine this morning."

But after watching the clip, several doctors said that Sunday night's events caught on tape should not be taken lightly.

"[That's a] pretty scary clip," said Dr. Larry Goldstein, director of Duke Stroke Center in Durham, N.C. "She appears to have an aphasia, [or] problem with expressive language, and right-sided facial weakness. Although this can be caused by other conditions, it is very concerning for stroke."

Aphasia usually comes on suddenly after a stroke or head injury, but it can also progress gradually because of a growing brain tumor or degenerative disease.

The American Stroke Association says that if a person shows any sign of a stroke, including difficulty speaking, she should get to the hospital immediately.

"I would always recommend that people who have sudden trouble talking should go to the emergency room," said Dr. Dawn Kleindorfer, associate professor of neurology at University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. "If her symptoms lasted less than 24 hours, it's possible she had a transient ischemic attack or it could have been a complicated migraine. But either way, I would always recommend that people get checked out to be sure."

A transient ischemic attack, or TIA, occurs in a person who has stroke-like symptoms for up to one to two hours because of to a temporary disturbance of blood supply to an area of the brain. A TIA is often considered a warning sign for a true stroke in the future if nothing is done to prevent it.

Brain Attack

"From what I saw of the broadcast, it would make sense that the person seeks immediate neurological evaluation," said Dr. Patrick Lyden, chairman of the department of neurology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. "The symptoms of altered speech -- aphasia -- can be a symptom of an underlying problem, such as stroke or tumor. However, I have no further medical information about this specific case."

A stroke, sometimes called a brain attack, is an interruption of the blood supply to a part of the brain. The term comes from the old adage that a sufferer had received a "stroke of God's hand" and was therefore damaged.

While the old wives' tale has now been explained through scientific fact, it is no fallacy that a stroke can cause lasting damage. If blood flow to the brain is stopped for longer than a few seconds, the brain cannot get enough blood and oxygen and brain cells die, causing permanent injury.

Although the likelihood of stroke increases with age, doubling for every decade after age 55, one-third of strokes occur in people younger than 65, with particular risk in young and middle aged women, Duke's Goldstein said.

"Women 45 to 54 years of age are more than twice as likely as men to have a stroke," Goldstein said. "Women in the 45 to 54 year age group have a more than four-fold higher likelihood of having had a stroke than women 35 to 44 years of age."

While stroke risk does indeed go up as people get older, stroke risk has increased in the younger population. Many doctors say the obesity epidemic is to blame for an increase in heart disease and stroke among people in their 20s and 30s.

"The risk of stroke in young healthy people is still 'small,' but stroke can occur at any age from before birth to death," said Dr. Joe Broderick, chairman of the department of neurology at University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and director of the Greater Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky Stroke Team.

"Risk factors for stroke include diabetes, hypertension, smoking and heart disease, but you can still have a stroke without any of those risk factors," Broderick said.

Ischemic vs. Hemorrhagic

There are two different kinds of stroke: ischemic and hemorrhagic. Ischemic occurs when a blood vessel to the brain becomes blocked by a blood clot. These clots can be caused by clogged arteries or blood clots that form in other parts of the body and travel through the blood and get stuck in the small arteries of the brain.

Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel becomes weak and bursts open, causing blood leakage in the brain.

Signs of a stroke are sudden weakness in one side of the face, sudden weakness or numbness in either arm or leg, problems with speech, sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes and sudden loss of balance and coordination. A sudden severe headache can also be a "less specific" sign of stroke, as well.

"The headache would be very different than any other headache that's been experienced before," Broderick said. "Stroke is something that involves an area or focus of brain. It's generally on one side of the body and comes over seconds to hours."

Strokes usually appear suddenly and without warning. Stroke sufferers often cannot communicate well, so calling for help can prove difficult.

If you see a person potentially suffering from a stroke, Goldstein said, "Call 911. Don't delay."

And Broderick said the aftermath and long-term effects of stroke highly depend on how long the episode lasted and the recovery period.

"It's a matter of how much brain was damaged," Broderick said. "The younger you are, the better for recovery."

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