Janet McDonald was 75 when she had a stroke last May. She woke up at 1 a.m. with paralysis on her right side. Her husband called 911, and she was taken to Banner Del E. Webb Medical Center.
“It was devastating,” she said. “You wake up and you can’t turn over. You can’t walk. You fall.”
McDonald spoke Monday during a panel discussion on stroke at Del E. Webb where several patients described their experiences and medical staff offered advice.
Dr. Darry Johnson, director of neurology at Banner Del E. Webb Medical Center, said the biggest problem with strokes is recognizing when they are happening.
“Most people know the signs of a heart attack,” he said. “If you stopped people on the street, I bet nine out of 10 could tell you the signs. Maybe 10 out of 10. But with strokes, the signs are variable.”
McDonald had suffered an eschemic stroke, which means an arterial blockage, and was in intensive care for several days before she regained the ability to even wiggle her fingers and toes. Just hours into her first rehabilitation session, she suffered a hemmorhagic stroke, which means bleeding of the brain.
“I was taken back to intensive care and in the hospital for three weeks,” she said. “Then back to rehab. And I can’t say enough about the rehab staff at this place. The hospital care here is wonderful, but you have to get here fast.”
Dr. William Mostow, Banner Del E. Webb’s emergency room director, said immediate medical attention is imperative with stroke victims.
“The thing we emphasize over and over again is timing,” he said. “Recognition is the crucial element.”
Some examples of stroke symptoms are numbness or weakness in the face, arms or legs, often only on one side of the body; trouble speaking or understanding others; problems seeing with one or both eyes; trouble walking; and sudden, severe headache.
“All of these symptoms are sudden onset,” Johnson said. “If you come to me and say you’ve had numbness in your right leg for three weeks that is probably not a stroke.”
Keith Otts, 59, did not take his symptoms seriously at first. Shortly before noon on May 2, Otts and his mother and wife were getting ready to go to Banner Del E. Webb to visit Otts’ father, who was an in-patient at the time.
“I got up to use the bathroom before we left, and I could not pull the zipper down with my right hand,” he said. “I was fumbling with my right hand, and I could not make it work.”
Otts said he had trouble locking the door on the house and turning the ignition on his truck.
“I had to use both my hands to get it to work,” he said. “I started to think maybe something was up.”
Otts decided to continue driving to the hospital, though his symptoms worsened. When he and his wife and mother arrived, he was unable to walk.
“I was dragging my right leg,” he said. “So then I realized I was having a stroke.”
Otts went around to the emergency room. He was asked to raise both arms out in front of him, then both legs.
“My left arm I could hold out all day,” he said. “But my right arm immediately started flopping. Same with my legs.”
Otts said he was amazed at the care he received and the degree to which he recovered, though he said he is not completely back to normal.
“When I got home I took the dog for a walk and realized I had trouble holding the leash,” he said. “I lost some of those fine motor skills. Even today I still have a little bit of numbness.”
In Otts’ case, Johnson said he did well to seek immediate help though he should have called 911.
“Not only do you pose a threat to yourself, but there are other people out on the road,” he said. “We definitely recommend you call 911.”
Johnson offered some basics to keep in mind if a stroke does occur. For one thing, he said, do not give the patient food or water.
“One of the things we screen for is dysphagia, to see if the patient can swallow,” he said. “So don’t feed them anything unless you’ve been cleared to do so. It can be devastating. If you try to give them water and they can’t swallow and it goes into their lungs, now not only are they suffering from a stroke they also have pneumonia.”
Jeff Dempsey may be reached at 623-876-2531 or firstname.lastname@example.org.