If you notice your loved one acting strangely — with slurred speech, a drooping face or a limp arm — it could be a stroke. With stroke, the quicker a person receives treatment, the less likely they will endure permanent damage. That’s why the universal motto for stroke is to “act FAST.” In short, don’t hesitate to call 911.

Stroke symptoms often come on suddenly. Maybe someone complains their vision is off, or you notice they have trouble walking or are unable to pick something up. You might notice their smile is crooked or they are complaining of a severe headache. All these symptoms are signs of stroke, but some mimic other conditions, such as migraine headaches, seizures and general weakness.

“It isn’t always clear that it’s stroke. That’s why it is important to have access to stroke neurologists at all times through our telestroke program with Swedish Medical Center/HealthONE,” said Dr. Tinh Huyn, emergency medicine physician with Memorial Regional Health.

Together, the MRH emergency crew and Swedish stroke neurologists diagnose stroke. They use the respected National Institutes of Health stroke assessment tool, which provides a score for the patient, and helps determine stroke or type of stroke. If the patient is a good candidate, the emergency medicine physician will administer a clot dissolving drug known as thrombolytics, or t-PA. Early on, a CT scan is completed to rule out a brain bleed.

“When a stroke patient comes in the ER, we run lab tests and a CT scan and share that information quickly with an on-call stroke neurologist. They examine the patient remotely to help with diagnoses and a treatment approach we can instigate quickly — whether that’s treating with thrombolytics, removing a clot or transferring the patient down to Swedish in Denver,” Huyn said.

When needed, a stroke patient is stabilized and prepared for transport to Swedish Medical Center, where a stroke team is waiting. The flight takes an hour or so, depending on weather. MRH nurses are very experienced at getting patients ready for transport, because it’s something they do daily.

If you suspect you or a loved one is having a stroke, don’t hesitate to call 911 and get to the hospital immediately. Timing is everything with stroke, and the timeline for preventing further brain damage or death is short.

“The telestroke program serves our community well. It lets us provide timely care, which definitely saves lives and limits damage. With suspected stroke, we want you to come in right away rather than wait and see,” Huyn said.

Calling 911 has the benefit of faster care, as the MRH ambulance crew does a quick screening, and if they suspect stroke, they call the hospital and give an alert they are coming. That way, the emergency crew is waiting and ready. Remember to act fast with stroke.

Side box

With stroke, act FAST

  • F—Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
  • A—Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • S—Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is the speech slurred or strange?
  • T—Time: If you see any of these signs, call 911 right away.

Source: Centers for Disease Control

Recovery Time

With traditional posterior surgery, patients can expect to spend 1 to 3 days in the hospital and 4 to 6 weeks getting back to walking a few blocks without pain. Recovery time for anterior is somewhat faster.

With the SuperPath method incision sizes are much shorter (2 to 3 inches) compared to the traditional approach (8 to 10 inches). Since no muscles are cut and minimal tissue is damaged, pain is less and people are back on their feet much more quickly.

“I like the SuperPath method because recovery is much shorter. It can be days instead of weeks,” Borchard stated.