dileep-yavagal.pngThere were no signs it was going to be a fateful day when 78-year-old Graciella Perdomo woke up 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 personnel 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 at Jackson, our physician team ran tests and scans on her brain to determine if there was any bleeding. Since there was no bleeding, they immediately gave her a clot-busting medication called t-PA (tissue plasminogen activator). The treatment can generally only be used within three hours of the onset of the first stroke symptoms, though it has worked for some patients as late as four and a half hours.

When Perdomo’s condition did not improve with the t-PA treatment, she was referred to me. Using X-ray guidance and a small catheter, I 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 days of the treatment, Perdomo made a dramatic recovery: she was able to walk by herself, and her speech was restored to normal. She returned home a few days later without any significant impairment from her stroke.

Early stroke treatment is a major factor in saving lives and recovery. Stroke is the number-one cause of disability and the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. Stroke is a disease that 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, leading to loss of blood supply to a part of the brain and resulting in brain damage with symptoms such as paralysis and speech difficulty.

Although people can develop a stroke at any age, those like Perdomo who are 55 and older are at greater risk, with men having a slightly higher danger than women. The risk factors for stroke that can be controlled are cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, drug use and lack of exercise.

Perdomo’s story sends a very important message: stroke in the 21st century is a treatable disease, but only if the patient gets rapid treatment. And for the well-being of those around us, it also demonstrates the need for the community to learn and recognize the symptoms of a stroke and the importance of dialing 9-1-1 immediately. In addition, emergency personnel should know to take the patient to the nearest certified stroke center where specially trained teams can treat and potentially cure a greater number of strokes. This will result in decreasing disabilities and lowering the death rate from strokes in our community.

For more information about Jackson Memorial Hospital’s stroke services, call 305-585-8787 Monday through Friday, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., or visit www.JacksonHealth.org

Dileep R. Yavagal, M.D., is director of interventional neurology and co-director of endovascular neurosurgery at Jackson Memorial Hospital and the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. He is an expert in the minimally invasive treatment of blood vessel diseases of the brain and spine using small catheters inserted through blood vessels. Diseases he treats include stroke, narrowing of arteries in the neck and brain, and blood vessel malformations in the brain and spine.