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My Health is a Priority

Stroke Awareness, Stephanie McCoy, Amanda Pientka, MD, Stroke Medical Director

An important concept in healthcare is ensuring patients are educated about listening to their bodies. Stressing the importance of listening to our bodies is crucial because it can be the thin line between living a normal life and dealing with the detrimental effects of a disease that could have been prevented.

Stephanie McCoy learned an important lesson when she experienced symptoms of a stroke but didn't respond right away. Looking back, she realizes that the signs were there, but she didn't think much of them because the symptoms weren't severe.

"It was on February 24, a random Friday afternoon. I was building a puzzle in my dining room and walked over to my living room to sit on my sofa, and my husband showed me a video. I said, 'Why are you showing me this?' But it was completely slurred speech," McCoy said.

McCoy recalls that she didn't feel anything unusual but her slurred speech began to raise her husband's concern.

"My husband asked, 'What's wrong with you?' and I kept saying, 'I'm fine, I'm fine,' but my speech was still coming out slurred and garbled," McCoy said. "That was about 4:30 p.m., and about two hours later, I started getting a headache on the right side of my head, and it was severe."

Looking back on the incident now, McCoy realizes that there were more signs that something was wrong. She was doing things that were unusual but seemed normal.

"With cases like McCoy, when we're able to go in and use an advanced treatment to restore that blood flow and help someone get back to themselves is special because it's a tireless amount of effort from so many different teams to make that process so seamless and quick."

"For some reason, I thought it was time for a bath, so I went to take a bath. I was freezing cold, but I kept turning the cold water on, and my husband would reach over and turn the cold water back off and turn the hot water on," McCoy said. “At that point, he wasn't leaving me alone because he was too worried and concerned."

McCoy's husband insisted that they go to the hospital, but because she "felt fine," she declined.

"I was walking okay, and everything seemed okay, so I went and laid down for a while, and then later that night, I wasn't feeling well, and my head was still hurting. Instead of going to the hospital, I thought the appropriate thing to do was take a hot shower. As my headache progressed, I remembered thinking, 'I'm having a stroke,'" McCoy said. "I knew better. I had recently lost my dad to a hemorrhagic stroke, but I guess I wasn't fully thinking at that moment. As I was taking the hot shower, I passed out. Thankfully, my husband was there, and he immediately called the paramedics, who were the ones that said, 'She needs to go to JPS.'"

Amanda Pientka, MD, Stroke Medical Director, JPS Health Network is a certified Comprehensive Level I Stroke Center. This means that JPS is equipped to offer advanced care for patients experiencing stroke symptoms. Our capabilities include administering clot-busting medication and using advanced endovascular techniques, which involve accessing the blood vessel to perform procedures like thrombectomy, like in McCoy's case.

"McCoy came in with acute stroke symptoms, so the team in the emergency room got her into imaging and CT angiogram, which is a test we do to look at whether the blood vessels in the brain are open, was concerning," Pietka said. "So, they contacted our interventional radiologists who were able to go in with what's called a stent retriever that allows us to look at the blockage in the vessel and then allow us to remove it in a process called thrombectomy, with the goal to restore blood flow. They were able to remove the clot and restore blood flow in the part of the brain that was blocked."

The symptoms of an acute stroke that McCoy experienced were headache, weakness, and difficulty speaking, which are classic symptoms that alert medical staff that a patient may be having an acute stroke. These symptoms are often accompanied by facial droop, drooling, feeling off balance, dizziness, or double vision. Promptly detecting these symptoms made a difference in her recovery, highlighting the importance of seeking help when issues arise in your body.

"When an individual has a stroke, we may have a very small amount of time to intervene," Dr. Pientka said. "When they're having a stroke, their symptoms may end up being persistent if blood flow isn't restored to that part of the brain. When someone comes in with symptoms that have only been present for a short time, we'll refer to that as acute stroke symptoms, which tells us that there may be an opportunity to intervene with either medicine or thrombectomy to restore blood flow. Unfortunately, after a certain point, if you don't get to that stroke, the symptoms can become chronic and persisting because we lose the ability to intervene, restore blood flow, and salvage the brain tissue."

Many factors can lead to a stroke, but being able to combat the effects by working proactively could make an extensive impact.

"Things that can contribute to strokes are things like uncontrolled diabetes, cardiovascular risk factors, like high cholesterol," Dr. Pientka said. "So, diet and exercise can be important in modifiable risk factors. Sometimes, people have risk factors for strokes, and they get strokes despite all those modifications in their lifestyles. But making sure that you pay attention to blood pressure, take your medicines, and lead a healthy and active lifestyle could help lower your stroke risk factors."

McCoy shares that this was a learning experience for her because it helped her have a different outlook on when to seek medical attention and not let anything sway her decision.

When you have a stroke, it affects a vital organ in your body. If not treated in time, it can majorly affect your body and who you are. JPS has equipped itself with the most advanced knowledge to treat even the most complex cases of stroke, giving patients the chance to achieve better outcomes.

"The brain is such a special organ; it helps us be who we really are. It encompasses so much of our personality and our ability to move our body and complete all the activities of life that help us function daily, so the loss of brain tissue and what we lose from a stroke if we don't act quickly can be devastating and cause so much suffering long term that we want to help avoid or intervene quickly," Dr. Pientka said. "So, with cases like McCoy, when we're able to go in and use an advanced treatment to restore that blood flow and help someone get back to themselves is special because it's a tireless amount of effort from so many different teams to make that process so seamless and quick."

If you or a family member are experiencing signs of a stroke, the BE FAST acronym has been adopted to better help with identifying and responding to stroke symptoms.

Balance (loss of balance, dizziness)

Eyes (blurred vision)

Face (drooping on one side of the face)

Arms (weakness in the arm or leg)

Speech (slurred speech)

Time (time to call 911)