Your Health | 6 months ago

5 Critical Hours That Saved a Stroke Patient’s Life

Every hour of a stroke ages the brain by 3.5 years. Learn how quick care saved Linda's life.

When 69-year-old Linda Cunningham was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat, she knew the condition came with a higher risk of stroke. Still, she just couldn’t bring herself to take the medication her cardiologist prescribed.

“I put the pills in my pocketbook and I didn’t take them,” says Linda, who works as a switchboard operator at Carolinas HealthCare System Union. “If I’d have taken that pill, this might never have happened.”

One week later, Linda was at home doing chores when something suddenly went wrong. She felt weak and fell to her knees in the living room. “My husband told me that I was drooling. I knew it was a stroke because my husband had had one,” she says. “So we went to the hospital right away.”

From the moment Linda arrived at Carolinas HealthCare System Union’s emergency department, things moved quickly. In a stroke situation, every second counts because time lost can damage the brain significantly.

“Every hour of a stroke ages the brain by 3.5 years, and a stroke can be anywhere between 10 to 15 hours in its course,” says Arvind Vasudevan, MD, a neurologist with Carolinas HealthCare System Neurosciences Institute, who treated Linda. “So for somebody who's in their 70s, having a large stroke could devastate them.”

Linda’s Life-Saving Virtual Stroke Care

After a neurological examination showed that Linda was likely having a stroke, doctors quickly activated telestroke, a special protocol allowing two-way videoconferencing with Carolinas HealthCare System neurologists. Through the virtual telestroke technology, Linda received the highly specialized care she needed from offsite neurology specialists – right from her hospital room.

“From the first minute a patient is connected to the telestroke program, they have stroke neurologists, neuroradiologists, ED physicians, neuro interventionalists, neurosurgeons – all of these specialty physicians ready to go and ready to help do whatever it takes to give them the best outcome,” says Dr. Vasudevan.

A Breakdown of Linda’s Rapid 5-Hour Stroke Care:

  • ED physician performs initial neurological examination and determines stroke is likely
  • ED physician activates telestroke, the emergency stroke system, that sends a page out for virtual care from a neurologist
  • Linda gets a CT and a CT angiogram of her head and neck
  • Vasudevan responds within five minutes of receiving the telestroke page
  • After looking at the CT scan and interacting virtually, he determines that Linda needs tPA medication, an injection of tissue plasminogen activator that restores blood flow by dissolving the blood clot
  • Linda is transported by air to Carolinas HealthCare System NorthEast, where Dr. Vasudevan is waiting
  • 1.5 hours later, Linda arrives and Dr. Vasudevan successfully performs a mechanical thrombectomy (using suction to remove the clot in her brain)
  • 1.5 hours after the procedure, Linda’s stroke symptoms are mostly gone

A Remarkably Fast Recovery

Within five hours, Linda had gotten all the treatment she needed: a clot-busting medicine and surgery to remove the clot. An hour and a half after surgery, Linda seemed like she was back to her old self.

“She was actually quite the talker,” Dr. Vasudevan remembers with a smile. “Within an hour and a half after the stroke, she was already talking fine and wanting to know what was going on and what had happened.”

She walked out of the hospital, which, according to Dr. Vasudevan, wouldn’t have been possible even 10 years ago. “She would've been in a nursing home,” he says. “These innovative medical advances in stroke treatments are proving to be extremely effective, to say the least.”

“They signed me up for outpatient rehab, but I didn’t need it,” Linda says. “I was back at work within three weeks.”  

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