A Stroke Strikes Fear: Act Fast, Save a Life

In an instant, a stroke can change the course of your life. It can be far more devastating than a heart attack because it can cause irreparable damage.

This damage can include loss of the ability to speak, weakness or paralysis on one side of the body, short-term memory loss and balance problems. A major stroke can cause brain damage and even death.

NorthBay Healthcare is committed to providing an inclusive stroke program that immediately identifies a stroke and begins treatment in the NorthBay Medical Center and NorthBay VacaValley Hospital Emergency Departments. The EDs care for an average of 10 to 15 strokes a month, as well as an average of 20 transient ischemic attacks or “mini strokes.”

The stroke program is managed by Julian Gallegos, stroke clinical practice manager and nurse practitioner. He is leading the way for the program to achieve primary stroke certification from The Joint Commission. “We’re following The Joint Commission’s ‘Get with the Guidelines Stroke Achievement Indicators,’ which is a national standard for stroke care set by the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association,” Gallegos explains. “Certification is based on an evaluation of our standards, clinical practice guidelines and performance measurement activities.”

When a patient is suspected of having suffered a stroke, the physician calls a Stroke Alert. Within minutes, a call is made to the Dignity Health Neurological Institute in Sacramento and an InTouch telehealth robot is brought to the patient’s bedside. This gives the ED staff access to neurologists and staff 24/7. When the robot is activated, a Dignity neurologist can view the patient and make an examination while consulting with the ED physician, usually within minutes, according to Gallegos.

Tests such as a CT Scan will help identify the type of stroke the patient has. There are two types of stroke, ischemic and hemorrhagic, and each will be directed to a specialist for further care.

While there are some stroke risks that you have no control over, such as age, family history and ethnicity, experts believe 80 percent of strokes are preventable.

About 87 percent of strokes are ischemic, caused by a blood clot. Patients with ischemic stroke are directed to Neurologist Shahid Rehman, M.D., the medical director of the stroke program. If the patient has arrived at the ED within six hours of having the stroke, Dr. Rehman can initiate a dose of the clot-busting drug tPA, which works immediately to dissolve the clot. If the stroke is severe, or if the patient is not a good candidate for tPA, he or she is admitted to the hospital under the care of Dr. Rehman.

The remaining 13 percent of strokes are hemorrhagic, meaning bleeding inside the brain. Because surgery is needed to stop the bleeding, these patients are placed under the care of Neurological Surgeon Jeffrey Dembner, M.D.

A stroke is devastating because it kills brain cells. While there are some stroke risks that you have no control over, such as age, family history and ethnicity, experts believe 80 percent of strokes are preventable. You can reduce your risk of stroke by controlling your blood pressure, not smoking, and maintaining a healthy weight. Since diabetes is a risk factor for stroke, have your blood sugar checked regularly. Regular exercise, a healthy diet and controlling stress can also reduce your risk of a stroke.

Know the Symptoms of Stroke

Do not ignore the warning signs of stroke, even if the symptoms seem to go away. It’s always best to assume that all stroke symptoms require a trip to the Emergency Department for medical assistance. Symptoms include:

  • Difficulty speaking or understanding others.
  • Numbness, weakness or paralysis on one side of the face or body.
  • Blurred, decreased or double vision.
  • Dizziness, trouble walking, or lack of coordination or balance.
  • A rapid-onset, severe headache, or an unusual headache that comes with vomiting, dizziness or altered consciousness.

Here’s a simple tool to help you recognize the signs of stroke:

Remember to act FAST

FACE • Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

ARMS • Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

SPEECH • Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Are the words slurred? Can he or she repeat the sentence correctly?

TIME • If the person shows any of these symptoms, time is important. Call 9-1-1 or get to the hospital fast.

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