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F.A.S.T. response to stroke symptoms

Gary Cooke
Special to The Union

One call is all it takes for the stroke team to jump into action at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital. In the event of a patient exhibiting stroke symptoms, time is vital.

Activating the Emergency Medical System by dialing 9-1-1 when a stroke is suspected is the first step to immediate medical attention.

The EMS personnel then provide notification to SNMH emergency department that a potential stroke patient is en route so appropriate hospital resources may be mobilized before patient arrival. These resources include the emergency room physician and nurses, radiology, laboratory, and stroke team coordinator. Additionally, SNMH has access to Mercy Neurological Institute of Greater Sacramento via a robot.

The Mercy Telehealth Network brings together highly specialized physicians and state-of-the-art technology to offer patients immediate access to advanced medical care.

According to the National Stroke Association, about 2 million brain cells are dying each minute while the stroke continues. The longer it goes on, the higher the chance of permanent brain damage, other disabilities, or death.

The SNMH Stroke Program is coordinated by Marie Daly, RN. In the past year, the hospital’s team responded to 105 strokes, Daly said. In addition, there were 73 transient ischemic attack (TIA). TIAs occur when the blood supply to the brain is reduced for a short period of time without causing permanent damage.

The National Stroke Association describes stroke literally as a “brain attack.” It happens when blood flow (oxygen) is cut off, either because of clotting, the buildup of plaque or fat deposits, or a broken blood vessel in the brain that leaks blood into the brain.

Risk factors for stroke include untreated high blood pressure, abnormal heartbeat, smoking, excessive alcohol use, high cholesterol, uncontrolled diabetes, excess weight, lack of regular exercise and untreated circulation problems.

Daly said the hospital’s response team involves paramedics, emergency room doctors and nurses, radiology staff, lab personnel, and staff nurses. Follow-up care includes speech, occupational, and physical therapy depending on the patient’s need. Each member of the team plays a vital role, from the paramedic who alerts the Emergency Department to a possible stroke patient to the physician who does the diagnosis and exam, with the aid of lab testing and CT scanning, so that appropriate medication can be given as rapidly as possible.

The Joint Commission, an independent, not-for-profit organization that accredits and certifies health care programs achieving certain performance standards, recently renewed the certification of SNMH as a Primary Stroke Center.

In addition, the American Heart Association has recognized SNMH with the Gold-Plus designation for stroke care.

Daly urged everyone to learn how to spot a stroke in progress. The National Stroke Association’s FAST test is one quick way to assess for stroke, she explained.

F=FACE: Ask the subject to smile, and watch to see if one side of the face droops.

A=ARMS: Ask the subject to lift both arms, and watch to see if one arm begins to drop.

S=SPEECH: Ask the subject to repeat a simple sentence. Listen for slurring or other speech difficulties.

T=TIME: If any of the above signs are observed, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Recovery after a stroke depends on the extent of the brain injury. Some improvement may occur rapidly within the first few days or weeks after the stroke. Other improvement may occur more gradually.

The SNMH Neurological Rehabilitation Center provides inpatient and outpatient physical, occupational and speech therapy. The goal of stoke rehabilitation is to enable an individual to reach their fullest potential for recovery. The therapists are highly skilled to work with the following challenges: motor, sensory, visual, perceptual, cognitive, language, swallowing and balance/fall prevention.

Patient Carolyn Bloom has been attending Neuro Rehab therapy at SNMH since experiencing a stroke last year.

“When I first arrived at the hospital’s Neuro Rehabilitation Department, I could not walk on my own. With the assistance and care of the excellent staff, I am now able to get back to my favorite hobby – golf! I am very grateful for the attention and care I received in the program,” Bloom said.

Daly was appointed as the coordinator for the stroke team last fall. She is devoted to stroke education and prevention activities.

The Stroke Program at SNMH can be reached at 530-274-6771. Contact Marie Daly, RN if your community group is interested in more information or a presentation on the topic of stroke.

All physicians providing care for patients at SNMH are members of the medical staff and are independent practitioners, not employees of the hospital.

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