When it comes to a stroke, experts at Valley Baptist Health System urge the RGV to “BE FAST.”

The acronym offers instructions on how to tell if someone is having a stroke — and how to respond:

  • Balance issues
  • Eye problems, including acute blindness or double vision


  • Facial weakness or drooping, including saliva on one side of the mouth
  • Arm or leg weakness, including not being able to raise an arm
  • Speech disturbance, including difficult speaking or understand speech
  • Time, meaning that you should call 9-1-1 as soon as possible —and note the time when the symptoms began

“It’s very important that the patients in our community be familiar with the symptoms of stroke and the best way we teach about stroke is by learning BE FAST,” said Dr. Luis Gaitan, medical director of the stroke program at Valley Baptist Medical Center-Brownsville. “These two acronyms are very easy to learn and anybody can learn — you don’t have to be a doctor or a nurse. By learning BE FAST, you can make the diagnosis in 78 percent of the cases.”

The accompanying Spanish acronym is DALE, meaning:

  • Debilidad de la cara
  • Adormecimiento de la mano
  • Linguaje al tirado
  • Entrar en acción para llamar el 9-1-1

For both of these acronyms, time is perhaps the most important factor when it comes to strokes.

“Treatment for stroke is time sensitive because for patients who come very late, they may not be treated,” said Dr. Wondwossen Tekle, director of stroke and neurocritical care for Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen. “The longer you stay with stroke, the more damage happens to the brain. It’s like fire. When fire catches, you want to put it out quickly, otherwise it will burn more territory.”

Gaitan agreed.

“Approximately 1.9 million neurons [in the brain] die every minute that we delay the treatment of the stroke,” he said. “Time equals brain.”

The team at Valley Baptist typically address two types of strokes:

  • Ischemic strokes, which are usually caused by a blockage in the artery
  • Hemorrhagic strokes, which occurs when a blood vessel ruptures

“The population in the Valley is at much higher risk than the rest of the country [for strokes],” said Dr. Ameer E. Hassan, DO, FAHA, FSVIN, head of the neuroscience department, director of endovascular surgical neuroradiology and director of clinical neuroscience research at Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen. “We’ve done much research on this. It comes down to the higher rate of hypertension, diabetes, and obesity — we have much more of that combination than the rest of the country. We also have unfortunately a less educated population, so they’re not coming into the hospital soon enough.

“There’s almost a 30 percent difference in mortality when you compared border Hispanics to non-border Hispanics,” such as those living in New York or New Jersey, he added. “Because of that research, we spent a lot of time and a lot of money educating the public — specifically in Spanish.”

In addition to public outreach and education efforts on strokes, the stroke team at Valley Baptist is dedicated to offering the best care available.

“Valley baptist is the most experienced comprehensive stroke center in the Valley,” Tekle said. “We’ve been here the longest. What a comprehensive stroke center means is you have 24/7 stroke care 365 days a year, which includes all forms of treatment modalities.” Some of those treatments include IV injection of a clot-busting drug (also called recombinant tissue plasminogen activator or tPA) to dissolve blood clots, physical removal of blood clots from brain arteries using catheters, minimally invasive surgery to remove blood clots from inside the brain tissue, and more.

After receiving treatment, the focus shifts to patient care in a dedicated neurological intensive care unit and neuro rehab facility where patients receive physical and occupational therapy.

Having advanced care available at Valley Baptist is key for the time factor of BE FAST. The research that takes place right here in Harlingen — along with ground-breaking studies and trials — means that innovations for stroke treatment are putting the Rio Grande Valley on the medical advancement map.

It’s important that Valley residents remember that such high quality care is always available to them, Tekle said.

“People in a lot of places are reporting reduced numbers of stroke patients. Many hospitals across the country are reporting reduced numbers of stroke patients despite anecdotal evidence that suggests COVID-19 and stroke are related. The main reason appears to be some people are scared to come to the hospital because of the fear of COVID-19,” he said, adding “Please call 9-1-1 and go to the ER if you have the stroke symptoms. Do not stay home for fear of COVID-19. There are standard protocols in place in our hospitals to protect patients from COVID-19 while providing timely treatment for strokes.”

Learn more about the stroke treatment available at Valley Baptist Health System at

Teach someone you know the BE FAST acronym! #JoinTheConversation at