“All of a sudden, I couldn’t stand up. And my fingers wouldn’t work together,” said the 56-year-old Port Orchard resident. “I called to my son but I sounded drunk.”
Hill’s son came into the bathroom and saw that something wasn’t right. Her face was droopy on one side and her speech was slurred. He told her he was going to call an ambulance.
“I told him no, no,” Hill said. She just wanted help getting to bed.
Hill’s experience highlights the classic symptoms of a stroke – and a classic response, said Dr. Brian Kott, Medical Director of the Stroke Program and Neurointerventional Radiology at MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital.
“People who are having a stroke may feel tired or just not feel well. A very common response is to take a nap,” Dr. Kott said. “But time is critical when treating stroke. About 1.9 million brain cells die each minute during a stroke. How much brain you can save depends on how fast you can get to that patient.”
Fortunately for Hill, her son and her husband ignored her pleas and called 911. She arrived at the Tacoma General Emergency Department at 2:38 a.m. – about 90 minutes after her first symptoms.
The emergency department doctor and nurses activated the “code NEURO” process to confirm a stroke diagnosis. The neurointerventional radiologists at Tacoma General were quickly consulted, confirming Hill was having a stroke. They still had time to reverse the symptoms.
Treatment options for stroke have progressed dramatically in the last five to ten years but public perception hasn’t caught up yet, Dr. Kott said. Doctors can now remove blood clots or repair tears.
“Up until the last 5 to 7 years, there wasn’t a lot we could do about stroke. It was what it was, and as a result, there wasn’t a lot of education,” he said. “We’ve done a fantastic job of educating about the symptoms of heart disease. When people have chest pain, they call 9-1-1. But when people get stroke symptoms, they don’t immediately react.”
Getting to a hospital quickly can make a big difference in how a person recovers from a stroke. A stroke or “brain attack” occurs when a blood clot blocks an artery or a blood vessel breaks, interrupting blood flow to an area of the brain. That lack of blood to areas of the brain can cause weakness, slurred speech or paralysis. Stroke is the third leading cause of death in America and a leading cause of adult disability, according to the American Stroke Association. Patients who get medical treatment within four hours of the first symptoms have a better chance of getting back on their feet.
In the Tacoma General Emergency Department, Hill was given drugs to break up the clot in her brain but they didn’t work. Doctors then inserted a device into her brain to remove the clot. Immediately after the stroke, Karen’s left arm was weak and her speech was slurred. But a few days later, those symptoms went away.
“I have nothing left over from the stroke,” Hill said. “I got a miracle that day. I am so happy.”
About Tacoma General’s stroke care:
Tacoma General Hospital gives patients the most advanced level of care for patients experiencing the symptoms of stroke. The hospital is categorized as a Level 1 comprehensive stroke center by the Washington State Department of Health, and has The Joint Commission Advanced Disease-Specific Care Certification as a Primary Stroke Center. Patients arriving at Tacoma General Hospital with symptoms of a stroke are met by a specially trained team of doctors and nurses who immediately assess the patient and start emergency “code NEURO” response protocols. The team consistently completes the exam and diagnostic tests including results within 45 minutes, so treatment may be started within 60 minutes. The quick treatment improves the outcome for the patient and improves the odds for recovery.
If you think someone may be having a stroke, use a simple acronym - F.A.S.T.:
FACE Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
ARMS Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
SPEECH Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Are the words slurred? Can he/she repeat the sentence correctly?
TIME If the person shows any of these symptoms, time is important. Call 9-1-1.
What are some of those symptoms?
Stroke symptoms include:
Call 9-1-1 immediately if you have any of these symptoms. Note the time you experienced your first symptom. This information is important to your health care provider and can affect treatment decisions.