Rapid Care at Certified Comprehensive Stroke Center is Key

It’s hard to believe Linda Klauber suffered a stroke only a few months ago—or that the stroke came right on the heels of a cancer diagnosis. Today, the 73-year-old is in good health and good spirits.

“Two of the worst diagnoses in the world, and you came through with a good prognosis on both of them,” her husband, Jean, said as they reflected on the experience.

On the afternoon of Feb. 24, 2017, the couple returned home from Memorial Medical Center, where Linda had surgery for colorectal cancer about a week earlier. As she got ready for bed that evening, Jean helped her put on her CPAP mask. But Linda, who remembers little of what happened that night, seemed disoriented.

“He said I was fighting him,” Linda said, “but I didn’t realize it.”

Words slurred, she told him she wanted to go back to the recliner in the living room. When she began to get out of bed, she stumbled and fell to her left. Jean grabbed her as he realized something was wrong.

“When you’re going through something like that, you don’t know what’s going on,” he said. But when he heard her slurred speech, he added, he understood she was having a stroke. Jean called 911 and EMTs arrived within minutes.

Rapid Care is Key

Seeking care quickly “gives us more opportunity to use all the various tools we have available,” said Casey Muehle, MD, of Springfield-based Clinical Radiologists, a member of the Memorial Neurosciences team. Neurointerventionalists like Dr. Muehle are one component of a multidisciplinary group dedicated to providing rapid, comprehensive care to stroke patients around the clock.

During a stroke, as many as 30,000 brain cells die every second, meaning that every minute of delay can have serious long-term consequences, said Sajjad Mueed, MD, an associate professor at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and medical director of the Memorial Comprehensive Stroke Center.

“Every moment you delay, you’re losing brain cells,” he said, noting that when a stroke is suspected it’s crucial for a patient or family member to dial 911 instead of driving to the hospital themselves or calling a family doctor. Not only are emergency teams able to transport a patient much more quickly, they’re also able to notify the Emergency Department that a suspected stroke patient is on the way, shaving precious minutes off the response time.

As soon as a patient is determined by Emergency Department personnel to be having a stroke, members of the Memorial Comprehensive Stroke Center are summoned. When the pager goes off, “we drop whatever we’re doing,” Dr. Muehle said.

Treatment and Rehabilitation

Patients like Linda immediately undergo a series of tests to evaluate their condition. The most common type of stroke, an ischemic stroke, can be treated by dissolving the blood clot that causes the condition.

If a patient arrives at the hospital within a window of four-and-a-half hours since the onset of symptoms, an intravenous “clotbuster” treatment called tPA can dramatically reduce the long-term consequences of stroke. Rapid treatment with tPA paid off for Linda, who came through the experience with few lasting reminders except some difficulty using her left leg.

The Klaubers said they were impressed with the caliber of the physicians and nurses who treated Linda during her hospitalization, as well as the physical and occupational therapists from Memorial Home Services who worked with her when she returned home.

“We had a lot of help to get through this,” Jean said.

The medical crises had an unintended consequence: Doctors realized Linda’s pacemaker wasn’t working properly. In early summer, after she’d recovered sufficiently, she underwent surgery to replace it.

But there was good news, too. Linda, who had a previous bout with cancer a decade ago, learned that her surgery for colorectal cancer had been successful, and she wouldn’t need to undergo chemotherapy or radiation.

Jean said the past six months have been a whirlwind. In telling the story—cancer, stroke, new pacemaker—he uses the metaphor of a fifteen-round mixed martial arts fight: You survive fourteen rounds, but still have more to go.

“I tell this story to people and they say, ‘Are you sure you’re getting that right?’” he joked.

“But we made it,” Linda added.

“We made it,” he agreed.

Top 2% of U.S. Hospitals for Excellence in Stroke Care

In January 2018, the Comprehensive Stroke Center at Memorial Medical Center earned recertification from The Joint Commission, placing it among an elite group of about 150 hospitals nationwide qualified to provide expert, around-the-clock care for the most complex stroke patients. MMC, first certified as a Comprehensive Stroke Center in 2015, is one of 10 hospitals in Illinois, and only two outside the Chicago region, to achieve this designation.

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