Find Your Passion: Former 'Walking Time Bomb' Launches Stroke Initiative

Alan Blinder
Blinder leads a pediatric stroke initiative program he started at UA.
(Photo by Samantha Hernandez)

By Dana Lewis

For months, Alan Blinder considered himself a “walking time bomb.” After having a series of transient ischemic attacks, often called “mini-strokes,” his doctor told him it was only a matter of time before the incidents grew into full-fledged strokes with potentially devastating effects.

The “walking time bomb” was an active junior in high school. After months and more than a dozen incidents, his physician withdrew him from school because the mini-strokes caused such disruptions.

Blinder, now a sophomore journalism and political science double major at The University of Alabama, taught himself from home and visited specialists across Atlanta to determine what was causing the events.

“Nephrology, neurology, cardiology, gastroenterology,” he says, naming some of the specialists. “But no one could figure out what was going on.”

Finally, his pediatrician contacted the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, who has a diagnostic center specializing in diagnosing difficult pediatric cases.

“They’re the real-life version of ‘House’,” Blinder says, comparing them to the popular medical drama television series.

He was eventually referred to Dr. Rebecca Ichord, a leading pediatric neurologist, who noticed a pattern in his medical records – Blinder was always sitting down when the events happened.

Alan Blinder

The source of Alan Blinder's "mini-strokes" was diagnosed with a blood pressure cuff, but only after visiting more than 60 specialists. (Samantha Hernandez)

Blinder was amazed that after visits to more than 60 specialists, Ichord diagnosed him with a blood pressure cuff. Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, or POTS, is a disorder characterized by lightheadedness and confusion because blood vessels do not constrict properly while sitting down. Blood pools in the legs, limiting the supply to the brain. In some adolescent patients with POTS, the inadequate supply of blood triggers sensitive regions in the brain to overact and cause strange, localized symptoms that look like a stroke.

Once diagnosed, Blinder was prescribed a drug that helps constrict blood vessels and was also prescribed an increased fluid and salt diet to increase his blood volume. Since February of 2007, Blinder has had few problems resulting from POTS.

From his experiences, Blinder has learned that it takes an average of 24 hours to diagnose a child with a stroke, although children need to be treated within 3 hours of a stroke to prevent devastating consequences.

“It’s even more important in the Southeast,” Blinder points out,” because a child is 20 percent more likely to have a stroke here.”

Blinder, a Norcross, Ga. native, took his experiences and used them as a motivating force to meet with Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, who presented a resolution on National Stroke Awareness Month for children in May 2006. The resolution was passed unanimously by the U.S. Congress.

Not stopping there, Blinder had the idea to start a pediatric stroke initiative program when he moved to college. The University of Alabama, he says, was the one university he visited with that said “let’s talk about it.”

Blinder was not disappointed when he came to campus in fall 2008. With the help of the University Fellows Experience in the Honors College and the College of Community Health Science, Blinder is directing the new University of Alabama Pediatric Stroke Initiative, focused on education, advocacy and research.

“Right now, we don’t have the resources to be a clinical program,” Blinder says. “But that’s OK – we are the first pediatric stroke initiative in the Southeast and one of the few nationwide who can really be a resource to families with children who have had strokes.”

The interdisciplinary initiative also hopes to work with groups like the UA School of Social Work, potentially pairing students in the school with families statewide, to help ensure families receive the services made available to them by federal mandate. Many children with strokes also have learning disabilities but often do not receive assistance in school, Blinder says.

Blinder says he would like to see the program become endowed, enabling it to become a sustainable initiative and a cornerstone for stroke awareness in the state. He also promotes National Stroke Awareness Week on campus. It includes educational components about childhood stroke for nursing and medical students.

“This is the realization of a dream,” Blinder says. “In the coming years, we feel that the Initiative has the chance to do a lot of good for the state of Alabama.

“A lot of kids are counting on us.”

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Dana Lewis will graduate in May 2010 from The University of Alabama with two bachelor's degrees in public relations and political science, and a minor in the Computer-Based Honors Program. A native of Huntsville, she plans to work and pursue a graduate degree in health communications.

This story is part of the Find Your Passion feature section of the UA home page. For more stories, please visit Find Your Passion or Crimson Spotlight. To learn more about how you can find your passion at The University of Alabama, please visit UA Undergraduate Admissions.