OKLAHOMA – When Stephen Baustert noticed his wife’s face drooping on the right side, he knew she was likely having a stroke and needed to get to the hospital immediately. Steve and his wife, Janis, drove three miles to Mercy Hospital Kingfisher in Oklahoma and were surprised at what they found.
Upon arrival to the emergency room, they were immediately led into a room where a physician assistant examined Janis, reviewed her medical history and activated the stroke response team.
The response was quick and featured a series of well-orchestrated activities, including a blood draw, computerized tomography (CT) scan and blood pressure monitoring. Within minutes, the couple was communicating with a Mercy neurologist in Springfield, Missouri, on a television screen through two-way, audio-visual technology.
“As it turns out, the neurologist already had all her medical records from Mercy and was looking over the previous CT scan and MRI,” said Stephen Baustert. “Everything’s going so fast I’m thinking, ‘good grief, how did they get all this done?’”
Janis Baustert was Mercy Hospital Kingfisher’s first patient to use the new telestroke program in July, 2014. Now two years later, the program is available at 30 Mercy hospitals in Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas.
“I’m just so happy the telestroke service is there for other people in a similar situation,” said Stephen Baustert. “The speed at which all this happened was lightning fast. Everyone knew exactly what to do and the doctor was very professional. We were really impressed with the whole situation.”
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 another city or hospital to see a specialist.
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.
“Two million brain cells die every minute when a patient is having a stroke,” said Dr. Richard Vertrees 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.
In Janis Baustert’s case, the neurologist determined that the use of tPA could be more harmful than helpful because she had experienced two minor strokes previously. If a patient who had a stroke in the last three months receives tPA, that patient is at a higher risk for developing a brain hemorrhage, which is bleeding in the brain that can lead to further brain damage.
Stephen Baustert was glad to have a neurologist via telemedicine to make that treatment decision.
“In smaller communities, the thought may be to head to a bigger city instead of your local hospital, but in the case of stroke, time is of the essence,” said Stephen Baustert. “I wouldn’t hesitate to stop at Kingfisher again; it was a positive experience.”
Stroke by the Numbers
Stroke is a 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.
The addition of telestroke in Mercy’s rural facilities is an innovative way Mercy is preventing disability and saving lives.
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: