How a grateful stroke survivor beat the odds
It's remarkable, really, that Bill O'Gorman can actually tell you how grateful he is to be alive. The stroke he survived last April was the most severe kind of ischemic stroke. "The typical outcome for someone with the stroke Bill had is to be unable to communicate or understand what's said ever again," says Jeff Wagner, MD, a neurologist and part of the highly specialized stroke team that treated Bill at Swedish Medical Center. "And most people can't move the right side of their body again either."
But 24 hours after his stroke started, Bill had completely recovered. This is the story of how everything went perfectly for him.
Bill's first symptom occurred at work when his speech suddenly became garbled and a coworker asked him to repeat what he'd said. "She looked at me funny," Bill recalls. When he still slurred his words, she rushed to get Bill's boss, who immediately suspected Bill was having a stroke. His boss knew the red flags--besides slurred speech, one side of his face drooped and he had trouble lifting one arm. She immediately called 911.
That fast response was crucial for Bill, since treating a stroke is a race against time. Every second counts. "The longer blood flow is interrupted to the brain, the greater the chance of irreversible damage," Dr. Wagner says.
That's why Swedish Medical Center--home to Colorado's first comprehensive stroke center-- partners with local emergency medical services (EMS) providers. When EMS providers see a person with stroke symptoms, they notify the Swedish Stroke Center that a potential stroke patient is headed to the emergency department (ED). This way the whole stroke team is at the ED door--ready to assess the patient right away and start treatment.
For an ischemic stroke, that treatment is a clotbusting drug delivered intravenously. But safely administering it fi rst requires a CT scan to make sure someone is having an ischemic stroke. In Bill's case, the stroke team was so incredibly efficient that they started the IV drip for the clotbusting drug in just seven minutes after Bill arrived at Swedish. "To the best of my knowledge, that's a world record," Dr. Wagner says. "Hospitals often struggle to get below an hour."
Bill's clot was so large that he also required delicate brain surgery to remove the clot.
A special reunion
One month after his stroke, Bill came back to Swedish for a chance to meet everyone responsible for his recovery, including the ambulance crew. "I didn't know how to express how truly thankful I was," he recalls. "And everybody said, 'That's fine--this is our job. We're just so glad you're OK.'"