While I was recently away on vacation, I noticed an ambulance arrive next door to where my family was staying. I later learned that a man had suffered a stroke. Unfortunately, he did not realize the importance of what was happening to him, and it was not until a day and half later that an ambulance was called. His symptoms did not improve, and he is now on a long road of rehabilitation and learning to live with his altered abilities. This used to be an unavoidable outcome, but today it is often an unnecessary tragedy.
Here in Whatcom County, there has been a revolution in the way we are now able to care for someone who is undergoing a stroke. What we call a stroke is really an acute “brain attack.” Like a heart attack, it is caused by a lack of blood flow, in this case, to the brain. Depending on what part of the brain is affected, the symptoms can vary, and include such problems as inability to speak, confusion, facial drooping and clumsiness or paralysis of the limbs on one side of the body. The individual undergoing a stroke does not feel pain, and they may not realize how important their symptoms are and call for help. This is important. In the past, there has been little we could do to treat a stroke except to deal with the problems that were caused by the brain injury, but there is now treatment available here to diagnose and interrupt the stoke in many cases, if an individual is seen quickly. Our local emergency medical services are aware of how important it is to get a stroke patient to the hospital as quickly as possible. At Peace Health St. Joseph Hospital Medical Center, a stroke team has been put in place. They have worked with EMS to ensure that every person with a possible stroke arriving by ambulance is rapidly assessed and evaluated with advanced imaging in order to determine if they can be safely treated to dissolve the blockage causing the stroke. The results can often be dramatic if treatment is given within three hours.
A close member of my family recently had an experience that illustrates the change in care. He awoke in the morning with an inability to move his arm and leg on one side of his body. He was also unable to speak. An alert family member called 911. He was quickly seen and treated after transport to the emergency department, and as a result of treatment, his symptoms all resolved. He is completely normal today without any disability, and the cause of his stroke has been identified to prevent recurrence.
Although stroke is most common in older adults, it can occur at any age and, in the United States, it is our leading cause of disability. The Chuckanut Health Foundation wants everyone in Whatcom County to know that we have an amazing opportunity to change the lives of many people for the better. Stroke can often be treated and cured, but only if we look out for each other, and call 911 to allow for immediate evaluation, in order for treatment to be successful.
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Act FAST! If you notice a new onset of abrupt drooping of a side of the Face, inability to lift an Arm, or trouble with Speech – Time is of the essence!