On a recent spring morning, 78-year-old Graciella Perdomo woke up normally in her North Miami home. But within minutes, she became confused and weak on her right side. Noticing the warning signs, her son suspected that she might be having a stroke and immediately called 911. His quick action likely saved his mother’s life.
Fire rescue rushed Perdomo to Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Comprehensive Stroke Center, which has an on-call team of medical professionals ready to treat patients 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
As soon as Perdomo arrived to the emergency room, doctors ran tests and scans on her brain and determined there was no bleeding.
Then, they immediately gave her a clot-busting medication called t-PA (tissue plasminogen activator) via IV, a form of treatment that can only be used within three hours of the onset of the first stroke symptoms (in some patients the window has been extended to 4.5 hours).
Perdomo’s condition did not improve with the IV t-PA treatment, so she was referred to an interventional neurologist who specializes in minimally invasive endovascular stroke therapy. Using x-ray guidance and a small catheter, the doctor was able to capture the clot, remove it from the blocked brain artery and restore normal blood flow to the left side of her brain.
Within a couple of days of the treatment, Perdomo made a dramatic recovery: she was able to walk around by herself and her speech was restored back to normal. She was then sent home a few days later without any significant impairment from her stroke.
Stroke is the number one cause of disability and the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. Stroke is a disease which affects the blood vessels in the brain and sometimes the spinal cord. In the most common form of stroke, arteries in the brain become blocked by blood clots and this leads to loss of blood supply to a part of the brain resulting in brain damage and symptoms such as paralysis and speech difficulty.
Although people can develop a stroke at any age, those who are 55 and older are more at risk, with men having a slightly higher chance of having strokes than women.
The risk factors for strokes that can be controlled are cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, lack of exercise, obesity, and drug use. The warning signs of a stroke include numbness or weakness of the face, arm and leg, especially on one side of the body. Signs also include confusion or trouble speaking or understanding, trouble seeing out of one eye, trouble with walking, dizziness, loss of balance and coordination, or a severe headache.
Perdomo’s story drives home a very important message: Stroke in the 21st century is a treatable disease, but only if the patient gets early treatment. Her story illustrates the need for the community to learn and recognize the symptoms of a stroke and then to call 911 right away. Emergency personnel know to take the patient to the nearest certified stroke center where trained equipped teams can treat and potentially cure more strokes. This will result in decreasing disabilities and lowering the death rate from strokes in our community.
Dileep R. Yavagal, M.D. and Sushrut Dharmadhikari, M.D. are Jackson Health System physicians. For more information on JMH’s stroke services, call 305-585-5853 or visit jacksonhealth.org/services-stroke.asp