Different Strokes, the Subject of Biology Lecture


Early detection can help stroke victims.

Rebecca Krueger, Staff Writer

Ten years after her mother’s stroke, Kindra Girard, biology professor and this year’s Distinguished Faculty Award Winner, became interested with the anatomy of strokes. She shared this personal interest to a full house on Thursday at Kreider Hall.

Strokes occur when brain cells die in a specific region due to inadequate blood flow, according to Girard.

Girard reviewed three major causes for stokes. The first of them was atherosclerosis. This occurs when arteries harden and crack, creating blood clots which cause problems throughout the body. These arteries harden when fat, cholesterol and other substances build up and form a solid mass, called plaque, that blocks blood flow through the arteries.

The second cause of strokes, Hypertensive small vessel disease, happens when small arteries in the heart become narrowed, according to CNN Health. Girard didn’t go into depth of what hypertensive small vessel disease causes are, except that it affects small arteries in the brain and is a result of high blood pressure.

The last major cause of a stroke is embolism. Embolism is an obstruction in a blood vessel mostly because of blood clots, and sometimes gases, that get stuck in an artery while moving through the bloodstream.

When Girard’s mother, Kathryn Lamborn, suffered from her stroke it was a result of embolism.

“My mom suffers from what is called an atrial fibrillation. Her heart has an enlarged atrium on one side only,” said Girard, “The heart kind of wiggles rather than contract [when beating].”

Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heartbeat where the electrical impulses that sustain the heart  pulsate in an unorganized manner. Due to Lamborn’s atrial fibrillation she is more susceptible to having a stroke.

Fortunately for Lamborn, only her sense of balance was affected by the stroke, according to Girard.

“When she [Lamborn] walks or stands she needs to hold on to something to keep her balance,” said Girard.

It is a common misconception that the entire brain is involved during a stroke, when in fact they are generally small arteries that connect to different specific areas of the brain. This is why only Lamborn’s sense of balance was affected.

One needs to understand the anatomy of the brain in order to comprehend what areas are affected by a stroke and in turn the changes that people experience in everyday life.

The cerebrum is the largest part of the brain and controls higher functions such as speech, emotions, sensory stimulus, movements and more. The cerebrum is divided into left and right hemispheres. The right hemisphere controls most of the left side of the body and vice versa.

The cerebrum is also separated into different lobes that control different functions. Girard refers to the frontal lobe as an area of intellect. The frontal lobe provides people with drive or ambition. It also conducts critical analysis as well as admiration of beauty, according to Girard.

“If the frontal lobe is affected it can change your personality, and change your mental status,” said Girard. “I was getting my gray [hair] colored the other day and the lady that does that said that her grandma had a stroke and afterward [her personality] changed and was terrible to live with.”

If the sensory association area of the brain suffers from a stroke, that person would have difficulty identifying objects by touch alone; they would need to use their eyesight as well.

“Let’s say you have keys in your pocket and you can feel them so you know that they are keys. If something were to happen to that area of the brain one might have to pull the keys out of their pocket and see them to know that they are keys,” said Girard.

Girard stated that is the area where motor command of the muscles used for speech were damaged in a stroke, “The person affected by this could be completely intelligent and they know what they want to say but they couldn’t physically be able to say it.”

There are many different ways to which a stroke can disrupt simple actions and thought processes that are used everyday.

Some ways to prevent a stroke are watching cholesterol levels, monitoring blood pressure, or hypertension, exercising and avoiding tobacco. People who have been diagnosed with diabetes, heart disease, are not physically active, smoke cigarettes and/or have an unhealthy diet increase their chances of having a stroke at a young age, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Apart from Girard’s mother’s stroke, she chose to cover this topic for her pre-health students, in hopes that it would spark an interest in the anatomy of the brain.

Girard was the biology division chair twice. The first time in ’79 to ’81 and the second from ’06 to ’09.

She has served three terms as an academic senator, and was chair of the academic rank committee as well as mentoring masters science students and has received grants to purchase anatomical models and study materials for the use of biology students, according to a document from the lecture.