By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS
Television producer Lane Ficke was chatting with videographer Dave Gordon about plans for the next day when Gordon suddenly stopped talking mid-sentence.
“His face just scrunched up and then he turned and stared at his computer,” Ficke said.
Ficke initially thought Gordon was playing a joke, and left to talk to some other coworkers. But as he walked downstairs, Ficke couldn’t shake the idea that something didn’t seem right.
He quickly returned to Gordon’s office.
“I saw his face drooping and hollered, ‘Call an ambulance! Dave is having a stroke,” Ficke recalled from that moment last May.
Ficke stayed with Gordon, whose speech slurred as he spoke. A coworker called 911 while another ran to the alley to guide paramedics upstairs.
Gordon recalls the disorientation of hearing his voice coming out garbled.
“I thought I was fully conversational but Lane couldn’t understand anything I was saying,” said Gordon, who lives in Olympia, Washington.
His right arm also felt strange. “It was like rubber all of a sudden,” he said.
Gordon’s symptoms are some of the most common experienced during an ischemic stroke, which accounts for 87 percent of strokes and occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted, said Alexander A. Khalessi, M.D., acting clinical chief of neurosurgery and an associate professor at UC San Diego Health.
“The key is that it’s acute,” said Khalessi. “You’re fine one minute and struggling the next.”
Gordon, then 58, was transported to the hospital where he was treated with tPA to break up the clot impeding blood flow to the brain.
Medical advancements made in the past five years have significantly improved the chances of recovery for stroke patients in cases where symptoms are recognized and treatment is administered quickly, Khalessi said.
“If you can reach treatment in time, you can often reverse permanent damage to the brain,” he said.
Khalessi said calling 911 immediately, even if the patient resists, is crucial.
“There’s a very narrow opportunity to intervene and it’s much better to be sent home from the hospital and told everything is fine than to have permanent damage,” he said.
Ficke recognized the signs of stroke because about a year earlier, he downloaded a F.A.S.T. video by the American Stroke Association to run as part of the programming on the government access channel where he works in Tacoma. The acronym stands for face drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulty, time to call 911.
“It was just in the back of my mind, and when I saw his face dropping, it just clicked,” he said.
Ficke said the experience has given him a heightened awareness to the risks and signs of stroke.
Doctors told Gordon, a retired Navy reservist, that his stroke was likely caused by atrial fibrillation, which was diagnosed five years earlier but wasn’t well controlled. He also had other risk factors, including high cholesterol and a family history of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
“When I got AFib, I thought, ‘No big deal, I’ll just take the pills,’” Gordon said. “I was too complacent because I never thought I could be at risk.”
Gordon also hadn’t recognized the increased risks he faced from his family history.
“Only after my stroke did I realize my dad had one at 48,” he said.
Gordon underwent a few months of speech therapy, but outside of occasional difficulty finding the right words — an after-effect of stroke called aphasia — he has fully recovered.
Gordon also maintains better communication with his doctors, monitoring his AFib more closely. Medication to slow his heart rate has forced him to shift to speed-walking rather than running marathons, and he also stays active with biking and scuba diving.
“I’ve had to make a lot of adjustments, which can be frustrating, but there’s a sense of gratefulness,” he said. “When you live through a stroke, you appreciate things more.”
- World Stroke Day is Oct. 29
- Join a live Facebook Q&A on “Preventing Another Stroke” on Oct. 13 at 2 p.m. CT
- Join a Twitter #StrokeTalk on “Stroke Warning Signs & Treatment” on Oct. 19 at 1 p.m. CT
- Read more Stories From the Heart
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