Stroke survivors from King County to share their stories during EMS Week

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Hours, or even minutes, can mean the difference between life and death when someone is having a stroke.  As part of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Week from May 20-26, stroke survivors from King County will share their stories about how quick recognition of stroke symptoms and timely response and treatment through King County EMS helps patients survive and return to full health.

Stroke is the leading cause of disability in the United States, but there are many common early warning signs and symptoms that can help with quick identification, response and treatment of stroke, helping to prevent or reduce long-term health problems.

Common stroke symptoms include:

  • sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arms or legs (especially on one side);
  • sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding;
  • sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes;
  • sudden trouble walking, dizziness or loss of balance and coordination;
  • sudden severe headache with no known cause.

Calling 9-1-1 immediately upon recognition of these stroke warning signs is critical to the health of those suffering from a stroke.  Professional dispatchers at EMS receive and triage calls to help determine the appropriate level of care needed, greatly improving the short and long-term outlook for stroke victims.

King County EMS continues to set the standard for pre-hospital emergency care. More than 4,000 paid and volunteer emergency medical personnel perform extraordinary acts of service and kindness every day, including those who work and volunteer as paramedics, emergency medical technicians, dispatchers and medical directors. 

To improve awareness about how to deal with potential stroke symptoms and to illustrate the importance of EMS in first-response stroke care, several King County patients plan to share their stories with the public during the week of May 20.  All of the survivors used King County EMS to quickly get the care they needed to address their symptoms.

EvergreenHealth: George Greenhalgh was only 59 years old when he suffered a stroke. He experienced sudden onset of right arm weakness and difficulty speaking.  Because he is diabetic, his family thought that he might have low blood sugar. They offered him some juice to drink, and he had trouble swallowing it - that's when they knew something was wrong.  They immediately called 9-1-1, and the Kirkland Fire Department arrived within minutes.  The ambulance crew then alerted EvergreenHealth's stroke team.  Once he arrived, it was quickly determined that he was suffering a left brain stroke.  He was given clot-busting medication within 45 minutes of his arrival at the hospital.  Greenhalgh and his wife said he was back to his normal self within just a few hours of receiving the medication and was able to go home a few days later. "I'm so grateful to my son-in-law for calling 9-1-1 so fast," he said.  "The biggest lesson I learned is not to be afraid to call for help! Time is of the essence for the brain!"

Northwest Hospital: In April 2011, Daniel Griffin called 9-1-1 after falling on his right side.  Griffith, 62, had a facial droop and difficulty speaking.  He arrived at Northwest Hospital, and the stroke team was alerted.  After critical tests were performed, it was determined that he was suffering from a stroke.  He then received treatment to deal with the blood clot an hour after arriving. Less than two hours after his arrival, his symptoms resolved entirely. He subsequently received physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy and was discharged to home and was able to resume all his normal functions.

Swedish Medical Center, Cherry Hill Campus: Fran Sullivan is a 42-year-old Mill Creek resident, mother of two daughters (12 and 2), wife and commercial real estate specialist. In December 2011, she suddenly felt "a bolt of lightning" go up her neck. Everything then started spinning, her arms and legs became paralyzed, and she felt the right side of her face begin to droop.  Sullivan knew enough about stroke symptoms to recognize them and acted quickly by having a friend call 9-1-1. Medic One professionals quickly responded and transported her to Swedish Cherry Hill, a Level 1, Comprehensive Stroke Center. A Code Stroke was immediately launched and she underwent advanced imaging to study the brain tissue and circulation, which concluded she was having a potentially deadly stroke. The stroke team acted quickly and administered the clot-busting medication. After a short stay in the Neuro Critical Care unit, she moved on to the rehabilitation unit where physical and occupational therapists worked with her to regain her independence. Eventually, she was able to return home and live independently with her husband and children.

Harborview Medical Center/University of Washington Medicine: Pamela Melendez, 56, of Bainbridge Island, was living a full life despite an accident that had left her a paraplegic.  Then one day in 2009 she had the sudden onset of speech difficulties and her right arm went limp. Knowing something was very wrong, she immediately yelled out, and her daughter called 9-1-1. Melendez was having a stroke and was immediately airlifted to Harborview Medical Center.  Quick action by her teenage daughter, skilled paramedics, Airlift Northwest and the UW Medicine medical teams at Harborview led to the administration of a clot-busting medication known to improve outcomes after stroke.  Today, Melendez suffers no lasting effects of the stroke. Through the UW Medicine emphasis on research, she was also able to participate in a research study looking for the best way to prevent strokes that may be related to a small hole in the heart called a patent foramen ovale (PFO); her participation is helping identify best treatment for future stroke victims.

Valley Medical Center: Chris Matthews is a healthy and active 44-year-old father and a security guard at Valley Medical Center (VMC).  In December 2011, after several days experiencing symptoms he thought were caffeine withdrawal or a pinched nerve, Matthews felt his left side go numb right before he lost consciousness.  The paramedics rushed him to VMC's emergency department where tests revealed a blood clot in the right side of his brain.  Within 45 minutes of arrival, he received a clot-busting treatment.  Within five hours of treatment, he began to feel the first tingles of movement on his left side.  He was able to go home just four days after his stroke and was approved to return to work full-time in just six weeks.  "If Chris had not been treated at the hospital in time, about 25 percent of his brain would have been affected, likely leaving him severely disabled," says Dr. Don Thai, Matthews' neurologist.  Instead, he is alive and likely will make a complete recovery from his stroke, allowing him to continue his life as an active father and husband.

Virginia Mason Medical Center: In 2011, John Bovee, 67, was driving to work with a terrible headache when he called his office.  The receptionist didn't think he sounded right so she called 9-1-1.  "Within minutes there were too many paramedics with me to count," said Bovee.  He was transported to Virginia Mason Medical Center and treated immediately. "Initially, I couldn't pick up my left leg from my bed, I couldn't swallow, I lost peripheral vision and had the mother of all headaches," Bovee said.  He spent the next two weeks in rehabilitation before being sent home to continue his recovery.  "I am absolutely convinced that I have had the very fortunate outcome that I have had because I was in a place where there was immediate EMS response available to me."  


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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