May is National Stroke Awareness Month, and did you know that strokes are the fifth leading cause of death in the United States? That being said, did you also know that Tri-County Health Care’s new Telestroke program is reducing that statistic?
Strokes occur when a blood vessel is either blocked by a clot or ruptures. This deprives the brain of blood and oxygen, destroying millions of nerve cells within minutes. The resulting damage can lead to paralysis, speech difficulties and emotional problems.
Tri-County has made amazing strides in treating stroke patients with its Telestroke program, which it introduced in the fall of 2016. It works like this:
If you or your loved one comes to the emergency room with stroke symptoms, we have immediate access to a 24/7 stroke intervention specialist at the St. Cloud Hospital Stroke Center through a live video conference. That specialist can conduct a brief interview and interactive examination and see lab tests and images in real time as if they were standing in the room.
In mere minutes, we can complete a comprehensive stroke evaluation, administer clot-busting medications, dispatch a medical helicopter and transfer you for life-saving care. In many cases, you can receive stroke-reversing treatments within 30 minutes and actually be landing in St. Cloud within 60 minutes.
But here’s the important piece: We can’t help you if you don’t get here. And you need to get here within the treatment window. That time frame is up to four and a half hours from symptom onset. Though, even if you wake up with stroke symptoms, we could still treat you. We can do this with multiple interventions, such as administering medication that dissolves clots or utilizing methods that “fish” the clot right out of the blood vessel.
This means you need to learn to recognize stroke warning signs and act quickly. Symptoms aren’t always left-side numbness and slurred speech. It could be a little hand weakness, slight vision change or dizziness. Other symptoms include confusion, severe headaches and difficulty walking.
A helpful way to remember the signs and symptoms of a stroke is “FAST”:
Face Drooping: Ask the person to smile. Is one side of the face numb or does it droop?
Arm Weakness: Ask the person to raise both arms. Is one arm weak or numb?
Speech Difficulty: Ask the person to say a simple sentence. Is speech slurred, are they unable to speak or are they hard to understand?
Time to call 911: As soon as you have even the slightest thought that your symptoms could be a stroke, call 911. Don’t call the hospital. Don’t call the clinic. Call 911. Our paramedics are trained to start the evaluation and treatment process wherever you are: home, work, the lake or a local store.
Tri-County has invested a lot of resources and a lot of faith in this program, and it’s working. This technology clearly improves our ability to provide stroke care here at Tri-County, and in fact, has already proven invaluable with several of our patients. The early data shows us that we’re treating more patients with appropriate treatment, we’re treating them faster and their outcomes seem to be better. So the moment you suspect a stroke, call 911 and get here. Once you arrive, you’re only two minutes away from a stroke specialist and the best care modern medicine has to offer. Any time of the day, every day of the year, we are prepared, we are here, we are trained and we are ready!
For more information about Telestroke and other services offered by the TCHC Emergency Department, click here.
About the Author: Dennis Faith, M.D., specializes in emergency medicine, with special interest in preventive medicine and clinical research. A science nerd at heart, Faith loves that medicine allows him the opportunity to combine his interests of working with kids, teaching and researching. Though he has a lifelong fascination with astronomy and recently got back into cycling and triathlons, most of his time, by far, is spent with his family.