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December 15, 2016

Acting FAST Saves Lives

Stroke affects 700,000 people annually in the United States. It is the third leading cause of death and the No. 1 cause of long-term adult disability.

By Pamela Witt-Hillen, ThedaStar Flight nurse

Stroke affects 700,000 people annually in the United States. It is the third leading cause of death and the No. 1 cause of long-term adult disability.

Emergency rooms and emergency medical services have to work quickly because “time is brain.” In other words, the faster stroke victims are treated, the less damage to the body and especially to the brain. If oxygen-rich blood is blocked from reaching the brain, brain nerve cells will die, producing damage and disability we call stroke.

Years ago, the treatment for most types of stroke was passive — we waited for it to be over and then managed the consequences. With this approach many stroke victims died. Those who survived faced the challenge of years of rehabilitation and oftentimes permanent brain damage or other disability. Today multiple treatments available help to restore blood flow to the brain, and as a result, minimize damage.

What is a stroke?

A stroke happens when blood flow to the brain is blocked by a blood clot in a brain artery or because a brain blood vessel has burst. Embolic stroke, or obstruction by clot, is the more common cause. Stroke symptoms include headache, mental confusion, inability to speak, loss of consciousness and paralysis.

When a stroke occurs, part or all of the brain is deprived of oxygen. Without oxygen, affected nerve cells in the brain stop functioning and begin to die within minutes. This is a disaster for the body because dead brain cells cannot be replaced. Because the brain controls the rest of the body, the death of certain brain cells often means a loss of functioning elsewhere.

As emergency health workers know, seconds count when administering care to a critically ill or injured patient, especially one having a stroke. Our window of opportunity to intervene and prevent permanent disability gets smaller as more time passes. It is important the general public be stroke aware by recognizing the signs of a stroke and acting fast by calling 911 for best chance of recovery.

Such keen awareness and timely intervention helped save 48-year-old Jill Kruk’s life on June 25, 2016.  On this morning at 8:35 a.m., while at their cottage in Wild Rose, her husband Paul noticed her have some drooling and then fall to the right. He caught her, lowered her to the floor and called 911. The right side of her face and mouth were drooping downward and her speech was slurred.

A Waushara County ambulance responded to the lake cottage and ThedaStar was activated. ThedaStar arrived at 9:11 a.m. and landed in a nearby clearing. A Code Stroke was called from the air and ThedaStar landed at ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah at 9:34 a.m.

Dr. Chris Hugo and other emergency department staff quickly evaluated Jill, a New Berlin resident. She understood and followed commands with her left side but was paralyzed on the right. She was not able to clearly state her name even though she attempted to. She was immediately taken to have a CT scan, which revealed a clot in her left middle cerebral artery.

Following CT, Jill was started on t-PA (tissue plasminogen activator that helps dissolve the clot and improve blood flow to the part of the brain being deprived of blood flow) and went directly to the Cardiovascular Specials lab for an acute thrombectomy, or actual clot removal. Amazingly, in just a little more than an hour from onset of her symptoms, she was talking clearly and moving all extremities again!

The moral of her survival story is that by mobilizing all resources — along with everyone’s rapid management, beginning with her husband’s recognition of her symptoms and calling 911, through the rehab staff’s supportive care — Jill was saved from permanent disability and possibly even death. She and her husband are ever grateful for such expedient, life-saving care by everyone!

Postoperatively, Jill suffered from headaches and has a slight difficulty expressing herself. She knows her outcome could have been far worse without such timely treatment and is working hard with therapy to overcome this. While she is aware of this, it was barely noticeable to this writer as she told her story.

Thank you to Jill and her husband for sharing their story in an attempt to help people understand and recognize when a stroke is happening. They want people to stay stroke smart and Act FAST for the best possible outcome.  Call 911!