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Billinger pulls over in Hays for stroke presentation





Sandra Billinger took a break from her three-week trek across the state Tuesday to give a presentation at the Center for Health Improvement at Hays Medical Center.

Billinger, assistant professor of research therapy and rehab science at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan., was joined at the presentation by Dr. Paul Camarata, chairman of neurosurgery at KU Med Center.

Both grew up in Hays, graduated from Thomas More Prep-Marian High School and now work together on certain projects at KU Med Center.

It was a welcome break from Billinger's 570-mile walk across Kansas she and her 20-year-old son, Michael Thomas, embarked upon last week to raise money for equipment for stroke rehab at the medical center.

Billinger, who helped start a unique exercise program for stroke survivors during her undergraduate days at Fort Hays State University, talked about her research and the equipment for which she is trying to raise money on her walk at Tuesday's presentation.

Money raised from the walk will support the initiation of an early physical activity program for stroke survivors at the KU hospital and the purchase of new equipment allowing assessment of blood flow to the brain.

Camarata, while giving some facts about strokes, spoke on the importance of how acting F.A.S.T. when someone is having a stroke could make the difference between life and death, and how disabling the stroke might be to the victim. F.A.S.T. stands for checking the person's face, arms, speech and time -- as in calling 911 immediately if one side of the face droops, one of his or her arms drifts downward, and if the person's speech is slurred or strange.

Strokes, Camarata pointed out, are the No. 1 cause of disability and No. 4 cause of death in the United States -- and 80 percent of them are preventable. They kill twice as many women as breast cancer.

Tuesday's presentation wasn't part of Billinger's Walk Across Kansas, but since she grew up in Hays, she said she wanted "to share the research with the Hays community."

Billinger and Thomas started their walk May 16 at the Colorado/Kansas state line and hope to reach the Missouri/Kansas line by June 7, traveling along the Santa Fe Trail.

Billinger, who was camping in Spearville on Wednesday night, said they are on schedule so far.

They have encountered rain, 50 mph winds and near 100-degree temperatures. One of their biggest obstacles has been lack of shade.

"It's hard, and I think it would be a little easier if we had some cloud cover or at least shade once in a while," she said.

Billinger and Thomas have packed dehydrated food to eat along the way and plan to stay in a tent at campgrounds at selected communities. She said they are trying to average 25 miles a day, and the last 5 miles each day have been the toughest.

"After 20 miles, it's hard to keep going," she said.

However, knowing what lies ahead at their next overnight stop helps them keep going, Billinger said.

"People have been amazing," she said. "They stop and ask if we need help and are interested in our story. Some donate right there, and others go online and donate."

They are recording their daily progress on Facebook, and people can follow their trails on Twitter by using the hashtag #WhereIsSandy.

Their website is ptrs.kumc.edu/walk-across-kansas.