Michelle Huckins is a mom, a lieutenant colonel, and an outfielder. She is also a stroke survivor.
When Michelle was airlifted to the UVM Medical Center from her community hospital in upstate New York, she was suffering a killer stroke caused by a blood clot clogging one of the arteries feeding her brainstem. The brainstem essentially provides the connection between the brain and the body. Ninety percent of the people who suffer this kind of stroke, if not treated quickly and effectively, end up severely incapacitated or dead.
That is why it is so critical for us all to know the signs of stroke.
But could you spot a stroke if someone was having one right in front of you? Would you know if you were having a stroke right now?
At the most basic level, stroke is damage to the brain, usually from bleeding or from a lack of blood flow. That is why you will often hear us say that time is brain when it comes to caring for stroke victims. When a stroke occurs, time is of the essence. It is estimated that 2 million brain cells die per minute as the brain is deprived of blood during a stroke. The faster a victim gets to the hospital, the higher the likelihood of recovering some or all of their lost function – like Michelle.
Yet, recent studies show that less than 1 in 5 Americans could name more than one symptom of stroke. Stroke is often painless in comparison to the chest pain or difficulty in breathing that people with heart attacks have. This can lead to delaying care or denying that there is even a problem.
In 1998, stroke researchers found that people had difficulty recognizing a stroke and came up with the acronym “FAST” to remind us of what to do when someone is having a stroke.
- FACE – is the face asymmetric?
- ARM – is one arm weak?
- SPEECH – is their speech garbled?
- TIME – if any of these symptoms are present, it is time to call 911.
That last part, calling 911, is critical. Across the United States, less than 5 percent of people eligible for acute stroke treatment actually get to the hospital in time. Why can’t we treat everyone? After enough time goes by from the onset of symptoms, even if we can give you medication to open up a blocked brain artery or use a catheter inside the blood vessel to remove the blockage, the brain downstream from the blockage may already be dead.
At the University of Vermont Medical Center, we have an expert team to treat acute stroke. When someone suffers a stroke, the “UVM Medical Center Stroke Team” is activated, often before the patient arrives to the Emergency Department. The “Stroke Team” involves neurologists, neurosurgeons, neuroradiologists, nurses, technologists, and pharmacists who all get ready for the patient to arrive in anticipation of identifying the problem and giving the appropriate treatment.
We’re ready to act fast – are you?
Find out more about Stroke Care at the UVM Medical Center.
Learn more about Radiology at the University of Vermont Medical Center.
Grant Linnell, DO, is a Radiologist at the University of Vermont Medical Center and Associate Professor at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM. His areas of specialty include neuroradiology and diagnostic radiology.