Time Matters When Stroke Strikes

“I walked into the kitchen that morning and saw my husband Chris backed up against the wall with a half-dead stare. As he started to slide down the wall, I grabbed him and we eased to the floor together, with him on top of me. He was totally unconscious, not breathing, and seemed to be gasping for air. Thankfully the phone was within reach. After calling 911, I started CPR,” says Julia.

Chris, a healthy and active 44 year-old and father of a two-year old daughter, felt his left side go numb right before his world went black. Three days earlier, he started with a headache he couldn’t shake and his fingers
and foot were periodically feeling numb. Thinking it might be caffeine withdrawal or a pinched nerve, he had scheduled an appointment with his primary care physician for later that day. Neither Chris nor Julia imagined he would be dealing with a life-threatening stroke.

The paramedics rushed Chris, who is employed as a Valley Medical Center security officer, to Valley’s Emergency Department. The ED team sprang into action. Maurice Montag, MD, Chairman and Medical Director of the Emergency Department explains, “In all aspects, we immediately prioritize all patients who come to the Emergency Department with stroke symptoms. Our team of physicians, nurses, radiologists and neurologists do a great job of working together to diagnose stroke quickly. On average in 2011, more than half of our stroke patients were diagnosed and received tPA within 60 minutes of arrival. Once that’s been administered, it’s pretty dramatic to see how many get better before your eyes.”

Tissue plasminogen activator, or tPA, is a thrombolytic, or clot-busting agent. It’s the only approved drug for the urgent treatment of ischemic stroke. If given intravenously within the first three hours after the start of stroke symptoms, tPA has been shown to significantly reverse the effects of stroke and reduce permanent disability. That was Chris’s experience.

After a rapid battery of tests revealed a blood clot on the right side of his brain, most likely caused by plaque breaking away from an artery in his neck and lodging in his brain, Neurologist Don Thai, MD administered tPA just 45 minutes after Chris arrived in the Emergency Department. Within five hours of receiving the tPA, Chris began to feel the first tingles of movement on his left side. After a series of ups and downs as the clot dissolved, Chris was able to go home just four days after his stroke, and was physician-approved to return to work full-time in just 6 weeks.

“If Chris had not been treated with tPA in time, about 25% of his brain would have been affected, likely leaving him severely disabled,” says Dr. Thai, Chris’s neurologist. “Valley has made a commitment to having a stroke program where our team works together effectively. Chris’s case is a testament to the success of the program.”

Despite some minor speech recall issues for which he is receiving therapy, Chris has been told a 100% recovery is likely. “I’m alive for my family and have use of my limbs! I cannot express enough gratitude to the Valley staff for how they saved me and supported my family with love and dignity. I’m forever indebted to Valley.”