Valley Voices

Think FAST: It might be a stroke

The doors of the emergency room at Kaiser Permanente Fresno Medical Center open, and a patient is wheeled inside, complaining of numbness and weakness on one side, difficulty speaking and loss of balance. Emergency personnel believe the patient is suffering from a stroke.

A “stroke alert” notifies a team of physicians, nurses, radiologists and rehabilitation therapists of a possible stroke patient, and they rush to the patient’s bedside to begin an evaluation. Soon, a cart with a high-definition camera linked to a computer monitor, speakers and a microphone is positioned next to the patient’s bed.

Then, a neurologist – sitting in another Kaiser Permanente hospital in the Bay Area – appears on the screen and begins to interact with the patient and hospital staff to determine if, indeed, this is a stroke.

With a stroke, every minute counts because “time is brain.” It is estimated approximately 2 million brain cells die every minute when a stroke is occurring.

According to guidelines set by the American Stroke Association, a patient suffering from a stroke caused by disruption of blood flow due to a clot in the arteries leading to the brain should receive clot-dissolving medication within 60 minutes of arriving at a hospital.

That medication, known as tPA (tissue plasminogen activator), can improve the chance of survival and minimize permanent disability. Studies show the sooner a patient receives tPA, the better the outcome.

At Kaiser Permanente Fresno Medical Center, we have significantly reduced the time it takes to administer tPA to patients arriving in the emergency department. This is a tremendous achievement for our medical center and a great advantage to our patients.

Kaiser, which is a certified primary stroke center, began using the tele-stroke cart in January. It is also in use at 20 other Kaiser Permanente hospitals in Northern California.

As chief of neurology at our medical center, I believe our tele-stroke technology is making a significant impact on our patients. My team of neurologists follows up with stroke patients, and we believe our approach is minimizing the long-term complications of stroke.

We are proud of our emergency room staff, which responds quickly to the stroke alert. First responders in our communities also are recognizing strokes more quickly and transporting patients to the emergency room in a timely manner.

Recognizing the sudden signs of a stroke can help get the necessary treatment you or someone you love needs. May is Stroke Awareness Month and a good time to remind everyone to remember this easy acronym FAST:

▪  Face drooping. Does one side of the face droop?

▪  Arm weakness or numbness

▪  Speech difficulty – hard to understand or speak at all

▪  Time to call 911. If you have any of these symptoms, call 911 or get to a hospital immediately.

Strokes also can be prevented by making healthy lifestyle choices: controlling blood pressure, eating healthy (low-fat, low-salt diet, reducing sugar intake) exercising and not smoking, among other factors.

And remember, every minute counts because “time lost is brain lost.”

Trilok Puniani, M.D., is chief of neurology at Kaiser Permanente Fresno Medical Center.

FAST: Signs of a stroke

▪  Face drooping. Does one side of the face droop?

▪  Arm weakness or numbness

▪  Speech difficulty – hard to understand or speak at all

▪  Time to call 911. If you have any of these symptoms, call 911 or get to a hospital immediately.

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