Dr. Amy Jarvis talks about stroke prevention

Jun 19, 2019

The medical director of the Stroke Center at North Shore left the coffee business for the hospital community

While stroke became Dr. Amy Lee Jarvis' specialty, as medical director of the Primary Stroke Center at North Shore Medical Center, the coffee business was her initial calling.

“I call it my 'other life,'” Jarvis admitted. “The 'Secret Life of Dr. Jarvis,'” she laughed.

Before venturing to medical school at Ross University in Dominica, Jarvis completed her bachelor’s in Business Administration and Management from the American College in London. She soon began working for a coffee and cocoa commodities enterprise handling import, export, marketing, shipping and placing products on exchanges.

However, Jarvis' journey did not go as simply as planned. First she married the president of a rival firm and went to work for his father’s firm in West Africa. Through this and other experiences aboard, she gained an understanding of cultural perspectives, especially concepts with which Americans might disagree. Jarvis said being open-minded — and fluent in French — helps her connect with patients, but more importantly, provides a sense of geographical understanding.

“Having travelled a great deal and living abroad, it changes you,” said the Miami-Beach native. “It makes you a global citizen,” she confided. “It really makes you more humble.”

But Jarvis warned cultural perspectives could also negatively change how patients saw medicine.

“Education is a huge piece because this is a population that's also a little suspicious and skeptical,” she explained. “They have their own culture —it's quite a closed society.”

Coming from a family of doctors, Jarvis always felt a pull toward the medical field. Jarvis would focus on study because most of her family members were already stroke experts. Jarvis is considered a vascular neurologist.

Jarvis said stroke has become very common amongst the current population. She has also noticed a stark increase in diseases like hypertension and high blood pressure in especially Hispanic and Haitian immigrants. The culprit? A stark change in diet.

While some assert that various foods from across the globe have negative affects on overall health, Jarvis believes more natural, farm-to-table foods (often found in countries with rich agriculture), when substituted for cheaper, traditionally American fast foods, can be a recipe for disaster. And when combined with a “laid-back” or “relaxed” attitude toward physical and neurological health, patients are at an even higher risk of disease.

“People are used to living at this hugely high level [of blood-pressure], then 'BOOM!'” Jarvis exclaimed, describing incoming patients suffering from multi-system organ failure.

She said patients needed to instill a greater sense of urgency when it came to medical self-awareness. “We can do something about stroke now, but people have to react.”

She stressed that even patients who eat relatively healthy and exercise could also be at risk, but current advancements in medical fields have allowed doctors and patients to see warning signs significantly earlier, thus treating problems quicker. Still, if patients fail to take medication or necessary steps, afflictions could easily become more severe.

North Shore's close relationship between doctors, nursing staff and administration, and its unique approach to mentoring, are what help support patients and bring a real sense of community to the hospital.

“It's a good place for me to be because you really do feel like you can try to make a difference,” Jarvis said. “It's okay if you call me at two o'clock in the morning and say 'I'm not quite sure what to do,'” she said of nursing staff and medical students who are all viewed as true partners.

Jarvis points out that North Shore has a core group of well-trained, dedicated youth staff.

“It's become a personal crusade to also improve the hospital because this is our community hospital,” she said.

After medical school, Jarvis completed a neurology residency at Georgetown University, and a fellowship at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, before migrating to Florida. She said young nurses and doctors could gain real medical experience by taking advantage of study-abroad programs, and studying real patients up-close.

“The best teaching is when someone doesn't understand something and you're right there at the bedside; just teach, show, do, explain,” she said. “While you're doing it, that's when you learn.”

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