Know Stroke: What To Do

Sometimes we worry so much about cancer and heart disease, we ignore the medical issue we're most at risk for. Then something like a stroke blind sides you. Stroke is the number three killer in America, though, most of us don't treat it that way. For the last couple of days, as part of a partnership with ETMC, we've talked about who's at risk, and the symptoms of stroke. Today's report is the real lifesaver. We set out to make sure you "know stroke." Today we make certain you "know what to do," if you have one.

"I was feeling a little bit of a headache," says 69 year old Gilbert Rowe. "When I began to lose focus, I was looking in the mirror. I was washing my face. My face went out of focus and I felt a little off balance. I turned to look in the bedroom at my wife and the room began to move and change. I grabbed both sides of the door and my wife was beginning to get in and out of focus. I could barely stand. And that's when I tried to speak and my speech was very mumbled," says Rowe. "It scared me. It really did," he says.

Just more than a year later, you'd never know this 69 year old distinguished gentleman had suffered an especially massive and deadly brand of stroke. And there's a reason for that.

"The thing that saved me is I got here quick," says Rowe.

See, Gilbert's a heart patient too. Two weeks before his stroke, he had been in the ER for a heart attack. That's not uncommon by the way. As a heart patient, he knows, time equals heart muscle. "If you don't get oxygen to your heart, part of it dies and you have a heart attack, If you don't get oxygen to your brain, parts of it dies and you have a stroke," says Dr. William Moore, M.D. of ETMC's Emergency Room. So, in the case of a stroke, you could say time also equals brain tissue.

It took years, but people finally have grasped on to the "seconds count" concept for heart attacks. Call 911 at the first sign, right? Well now, doctors are hoping to get East Texans thinking the same way about stroke.

"In the old days, we used to admire strokes. We couldn't do anything about it, so we'd just watch it happen. These days, we have interventions, if given early enough can actually stop the stroke in its tracks," says ETMC Neurologist, Dr. Lester Collins, M.D.

But how early is early enough?

"Before, we told our paramedics that if the symptoms were over an hour and a half in length, it really didn't matter how fast you got them to the hospital. We really couldn't do much for that patient. But now, the window for the paramedic is four and a half hours because the overall window to get something done in the hospital is up to 6 hours now," says Dr. Moore.

And here's why. A stroke is usually caused by a blood clot in the brain. But new clot busting drugs, again efficient only in the first 6 hours, can knock out the clot, restoring normal blood flow. And for people like Gilbert Rowe, a normal life. "I got quick help and that's why I'm still here and we're talking about it," says Rowe.