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Surviving Stroke: Know the symptoms, save a life

It’s a scary thing to think about: Would you be able to tell if you or someone you love showed symptoms of a stroke?

Response time after a stroke can mean the difference between survivor and victim.

The only thing I even recall was having a headache for a day,” said stroke survivor Donette Sperry. “I never have headaches.”

Three months ago, Sperry woke up on the floor of her office. It was 11 a.m. The last thing she remembers is looking at the clock at 7 that morning.

“I kept telling them, ‘I had a stroke,'” she said, as she remembered calling out to her co-workers.

Sperry was untreated for hours. In the wake of her stroke, the girl who loved to run 3-miles-a day could barely get out of bed.

“Strokes more commonly happen in older people, but they can happen in young people too,” said Dr. Chris Harker, an interventional radiologist at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls.

Harker is part of the cutting edge. The hospital is one of only two in Idaho granted Advanced Certification as a Primary Stroke Center.

For 56-year-old Evona Young, the hospital’s certification means she got a second chance at life.

It’s hard to tell Young suffered a stroke. It attacked her like a bad dream in the dead of night.

But, her speech isn’t slurred, and she moves like nothing ever happened.

“The more I talk to you it’s like, ‘oh my gosh,'” she said, looking at imaging of her own brain with Dr. Harker.

At the EIRMC Medical Imaging Department, she got a look inside her own brain. She looked at the bleeding that tells Dr. Harker her case could have been so much worse.

“We got her on this table and started treating her near the 6-hour time-limit, so if she had been an hour later, she would have been outside the window,” he said.

Young’s husband recognized her symptoms and wasted no time calling 9-11. At the hospital, doctors weaved a nearly-invisible catheter inside her cerebral artery which released a dissolving agent and destroyed the clot in her brain.

“The longer the brain is deprived of oxygen, the more damage there’s going to be,” said Harker.

He said Young’s husband is the real hero. He acted immediately after asking her a series of questions, and recognizing her symptoms.

Harker said stroke symptoms can be as simple as an unusual or painful headache.

Symptoms can also include:

A funny sensation in one side of the body
Weakness in an arm or leg
One side of the face drooping

Someone having a stroke may also have trouble finding or understanding words.

“If you think someone, a co-worker or loved one is having a stroke, ask them to repeat a simple phrase to them, have them smile for you, have them lift their arms up,” said Harker.

Timing is everything, he said. According to Harker, there’s about 6 hours after a stroke when treatment is imperative.

“If she would have shown up an hour later, her stroke would have been devastating,” he said “She may have completely lost her ability to speak permanently or significantly.”

Loss of speech is a struggle Sperry knows all-too-well. It had been 4 hours before she was even found after her stroke.

“It was frustrating because I couldn’t get the words out of my head,” she said. “I knew ‘up there’ what i wanted to say, but I couldn’t get them out of my head.”

After three months of speech and occupational therapy at EIRMC, Sperry sounds a lot more like herself.

“It is nothing short of miraculous,” said EIRMC Therapy Director Dorothy Yelton.

For Yelton, watching a stroke survivor recover is really like watching someone come back to life. She used to be an intensive care unit nurse.

“In ICU you deal with a crisis, in here we deal with life,” she said.

Life can be so miraculous. Just a couple months ago Sperry could barely get going in the morning. Now, she’s looking at getting back to her daily 3-mile runs and has already made strides.

“Now I can run half a mile,” said Sperry. “That’s pretty cool that I can run now.”

The race to recovery is a passion for Yelton.

“It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in nursing,” she said.

It’s also a reminder for survivors like Sperry and Young.

“Anything that you even think might be a stroke, seek medical attention immediately,” said Dr. Harker.

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