WATONGA, Okla. – Christine Kaiser was in the grocery store parking lot one October morning when she noticed cloudiness in her left eye and only one of her pupils dilated. She knew something was wrong.
She immediately went to her optometrist’s office who suggested she visit her primary care provider at Mercy Clinic. Clinicians at Mercy Clinic looked at her eyes and recommended she head to the emergency department at Mercy Hospital Watonga right away.
Upon arrival at the hospital, a team was waiting to assist her. The response was quick and featured a series of well-orchestrated activities, including a blood draw, computerized tomography (CT) scan and blood pressure monitoring. They also put her on oxygen, assessed her for a stroke and activated the telestroke program.
Within minutes, Kaiser was communicating with a Mercy neurologist at another Mercy facility on a television screen through two-way, audio-visual technology.
The neurologist reviewed her test results through Mercy’s electronic medical record system and determined that she had suffered a transient ischemic attack (TIA), also known as a ministroke. She was admitted to the hospital overnight and given a blood thinner.
“I think it’s really important to know about the telestroke program right here in Watonga because the care is excellent and the staff is great,” said Kaiser, 64, of Watonga.
If the telestroke program was not available in Watonga, Kaiser said she would have likely been airlifted to Oklahoma City. In this instance, her husband was out of town in Indiana and her adult son who lives with them has cerebral palsy and, although he can care for himself, she would have worried the whole time.
“It would have been a nightmare and a hardship for us,” said Kaiser.
Time Is Brain
When you or a loved one is having a stroke, every minute counts. A stroke occurs when the flow of blood is cut off to the brain causing the brain tissue to die, which can result in permanent damage or death.
Mercy’s telestroke program connects patients to specialized care without driving to Oklahoma City to see a specialist. The telestroke program is available at nine Mercy hospitals throughout the state, including the communities of Ardmore, El Reno, Guthrie, Healdton, Kingfisher, Marietta, Oklahoma City, Tishomingo and Watonga.
If the neurologist determines that the patient is having a stroke through the telestroke program, the local emergency room provider can administer tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), the clot-buster drug that is approved for the acute treatment of ischemic stroke, the most common type of stroke. The drug is most effective when provided within three hours after symptoms begin. The neurologist did not order tPA for Kaiser.
“Two million brain cells die every minute when a patient is having a stroke,” said Dr. Richard V. Smith, medical director of Mercy’s NeuroScience Institute in Oklahoma City. “Once you lose those brain cells, you can’t get them back, so it is important to get to the emergency room immediately to limit brain damage by receiving the treatment you need, when you need it.”
Waiting too long to administer the medication could mean serious disability or death. After receiving the medication, most patients will then be transferred to Mercy Hospital Oklahoma City for additional care. The Oklahoma City hospital was the state’s first hospital to earn the Advanced Certification for Comprehensive Stroke Centers from The Joint Commission and the American Heart Association.
Stroke by the Numbers
Stroke is the leading cause of disability in the United States and more than half of stroke patients will not be able to care for themselves after a stroke if they do not arrive to the emergency room quickly to receive treatment. The National Stroke Association estimates about 795,000 strokes occur annually in the United States — one stroke every 40 seconds.
Oklahoma has the fourth highest rate of stroke-related death in the country, accounting for almost 1,900 deaths in 2012 (the fifth leading cause of death in Oklahoma), according to the 2014 State of the State’s Health Report from the Oklahoma State Department of Health.
The addition of telestroke in Mercy’s rural facilities is an innovative way Mercy is preventing disability and saving lives around the state.
If you notice someone with the following symptoms, remember to think FASST and call 9-1-1.
Nine Ways to Prevent a Stroke
Obesity, smoking and overconsumption of alcohol can lead to a stroke. The National Stroke Association recommends the following nine ways to prevent a stroke:
Mercy is the fifth largest Catholic health care system in the U.S. and serves millions annually. Mercy includes 34 acute care hospitals, four heart hospitals, two children’s hospitals, three rehab hospitals and one orthopedic hospital, nearly 700 clinic and outpatient facilities, 40,000 co-workers and more than 2,000 Mercy Clinic physicians in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Mercy also has outreach ministries in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.