When a stroke strikes, seconds count.
A stroke occurs when a clot blocks the blood supply to the brain or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, depriving the brain of oxygen. At Lutheran Medical Center, Donald Frei, MD, has witnessed both the devastating effects of stroke and the dramatic impact of effective treatment. A neuro-interventional radiologist, Dr. Frei specializes in mechanical thrombectomy, the removal of a blood clot through small catheters that are threaded into the blood vessels under image guidance.
“I’ve seen patients who are unable to speak when they arrive at the hospital,” he says. “Within 20 minutes, we’ve extracted the clot, and they are immediately able to talk again.”
It’s an amazing result that unfortunately happens all too rarely because people often wait too long after experiencing the onset of stroke symptoms, resulting in irreparable damage.
“Many times, someone might notice sudden numbness, blurred vision or some other typical sign of stroke, but because these symptoms can disappear, and because they don’t hurt, people don’t seek help until it’s too late,” he says.
Stroke treatments, including thrombectomy and the clot-busting drug tPA (tissue plasminogen activator), are most effective when administered within three hours of when symptoms first appear. But Dr. Frei emphasizes that patients can still be treated within a 24-hour window. “Only about 20 percent of patients who are eligible for mechanical thrombectomy actually receive it,” he says.
Know the Signs
The most common stroke warning signs and symptoms are:
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Sudden, severe headache with no known cause
If you think someone might be having a stroke, act F.A.S.T.:
F—Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
A—Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S—Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is the speech slurred or strange?
T—Time: If you see any of these signs, call 9-1-1 right away.
Once the ambulance arrives, it is critical to insist on being taken to a stroke center that offers 24/7 comprehensive care, such as Lutheran Medical Center. At Lutheran Medical Center, Dr. Frei is one of five physicians who offer mechanical thrombectomy and other advanced treatments. Lutheran’s other stroke specialists include emergency room physicians, nurses, rehabilitation therapists and many others.
High cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and smoking can all increase your chances of having a stroke. But Dr. Frei emphasizes that strokes can happen to people of all ages, even if they are otherwise healthy.
“Strokes may be caused by an undiagnosed clotting disorder, a spontaneous artery tear or a blow to the head,” he says. “The youngest patient I ever treated for stroke was just 9 years old, and the oldest was 98. That’s why it’s critical for everyone to know the signs of stroke and seek help immediately. The faster you get treatment, the better your outcome will be.”
Lutheran Introduces Advance in Stroke Treatment
When someone suffers a stroke or heart attack, their survival and future quality of life can be determined in hours, if not minutes. The more timely and precise the diagnosis and treatment of these events, the greater the chance of survival and of regaining cognitive and physical abilities.
Lutheran Medical Center, already known regionally for its quality stroke care, now has one of the most sophisticated, high-resolution imaging technologies in cardiac and stroke care. The biplane angiography system uses two cameras to provide simultaneous imaging to produce highly detailed, real-time 3-D images of blood vessels and soft tissue.
The technology can help locate blockages that cause ischemic stroke and identify aneurysms that cause hemorrhagic stroke to help physicians better predict, diagnose and treat various neurological disorders. The biplane imaging can also assist with stent placement and guiding catheters through the brain, as well as in neuro coiling, a procedure that blocks blood flow to an aneurysm.
When you arrive with stroke symptoms, the first few minutes are critical. Through rapid diagnosis and treatment, our stroke team helps hundreds of people recover from stroke each year. Lutheran Medical Center is recognized as a Primary Stroke Center. Primary Stroke Centers decrease disability and death from stroke. If you experience stroke symptoms, call 911 immediately.
Traveling the Road to Stroke Recovery
If you ever met Kathy Martin, you would see right away that she is an upbeat, independent, strong, intelligent, take-charge kind of person. So you might not be surprised that when she first realized she was having a stroke that day in July—and she recognized the symptoms immediately—she first called for a family member to come and take her to the hospital. Then she calmly put the four dogs into their kennels, brushed her teeth and waited for her ride.
Kathy knows now that she should have called 911 to get to the nearest hospital and receive treatment right away. Luckily for her, that delay did not affect her treatment or recovery. Once she got to Lutheran Medical Center, the right team was assembled immediately to diagnose her and get her the tPA treatment that she needed.
“If I could have waved a magic wand for the best medical care, I couldn’t have chosen a better scenario,” Kathy says. “As soon as I got there, I was surrounded by amazing people who told me I was having a stroke, and they got me into the treatment room right away.”
Kathy describes that morning before the hospital as a good morning, although she had felt a little “off” for a few weeks. She recalls bending down and suddenly feeling like her whole right side became “unplugged.” She still had some control over her arm and leg, but that would change over the next few hours as the stroke continued to damage her brain.
After timely diagnosis and treatment, Kathy spent a few days in the hospital and was transferred to a local rehab hospital for further care. She’s almost fully recovered now and continues with weekly occupational and physical therapy. The 53-year-old teacher credits everyone around her with that recovery, from her amazing husband, sons and son-in-law, friends and colleagues to the medical professionals.
“I would tell others that it’s OK to be more emotional sometimes, and there are things that can help you through it,” Kathy advises. “Sometimes, your condition is going to be in charge. But you can negotiate through the rough patches.”