Communication saves lives for stroke victims

  • Monadnock Community Hospital STAFF FILE PHOTO BY BEN CONANT

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 5/2/2022 11:06:54 AM
Modified: 5/2/2022 11:05:22 AM

According to the American Stroke Association, stroke is the fifth-leading cause of death in the United States, and someone has a stroke every 40 seconds.

May is Stroke Awareness Month, but for first-responders, nurses and doctors in the Monadnock Region, strokes are always top of mind. 

“The key with strokes is time,” said Donna Infante, registered nurse and director of emergency services at Monadnock Community Hospital. “The shorter the time period is really critical.” 

In order to get people with stroke symptoms to the hospital and diagnosed as quickly as possible, emergency medical services and MCH have a system that requires strong communication among trained professionals. But the first step is recognizing the signs, and that often starts at home.

“It involves the public, people being aware of signs and symptoms,” said Peterborough Fire Chief Ed Walker, because as soon as the 911 call is made and the system goes into place, the better the chances of survival and a full recovery. 

Walker explained that there are two types of stroke. A hemorrhagic stroke is a bleed in the brain. An ischemic stroke is more common, caused by a blood clot in the brain. 

Infante said that within the first few hours after the start of symptoms, ischemic stroke patients can receive thrombolytics, medication used to dissolve the blood clot. But since this life-saving treatment is so time-sensitive, it is essential to know when symptoms started. Not all stroke patients do. 

Once EMTs arrive on scene, they need to quickly assess stroke symptoms and get a time frame. They can send a stroke alert to the hospital, and when the hospital gets a stroke alert, it will make sure the CAT scan machine is free and will be ready to take labs for testing. Using a remote call-in system, telestroke, they will have a neurologist dialed in ready to give expert advice. 

“The protocol has been in place for awhile on the EMS side and the hospital side,” Walker said. “Our focus now has been integrating these.”

Infante said having this system in place to get patients care as quickly as possible “has been amazing. Outcomes are much better.” She said having patients transported directly to the CAT scan and having labs already drawn “expedites the entire process.”

Infante said in 2021, there were 93 cases of stroke-like symptoms at MCH. But she said not all of these were actual strokes.

“We don’t know until we do a CAT scan,” Walker said. The scan can be used to rule out a hemorrhage, aneurysm, trauma or other issues that could cause similar symptoms. 

Walker said that those over 60 are at highest risk for stroke. 

“A lot of preventative things for stroke are what goes along with preventing heart attack,” he said.

Infante believes “health care’s foundation needs to be on education.” She has personal experience that relied on her 10-year-old son knowing the signs of stroke and acting fast. Infante was at work and her mother was at home with her son when he recognized that his grandmother needed immediate help. He called an ambulance and was able to estimate a time frame. The hospital gave Infante’s mother thrombolytics and she made a full recovery, leaving the hospital 10 days later. 

“Without a doubt, the time frame saved her,” she said. 

Infante believes education about stroke risk and signs has been improved. Not only are EMTs trained thoroughly, but members of the public know more than they used to. 

“I get on regular meetings with the New Hampshire Stroke Collaborative to discuss EMS training, EMS policies. We talk about education, programs, trends,” she said.

For stroke patients to receive fast care, communication is essential. From public awareness to emergency communication to state collaboration, Infante and Walker say this is why the system works, and emphasized how important it is for the public to recognize possible signs of stroke. The acronym FAST can be used to remember important warning signs: Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty and Time to call 911.

Other stroke symptoms include numbness, weakness, difficulty seeing, unsteady walking or uneven gait, severe headache and confusion. If symptoms of a stroke are present, call emergency services immediately.


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