Stroke specialists are working to improve treatment access, with a goal of reducing the threat of permanent disability by half.
One headache changed Christine Skolnick’s life.
“It started at 10 a.m. and then it was more nausea,” the Webster resident said. “I thought it was just a bad (stomach) bug, and when my husband came up to our room to check on me, he said, ‘We need to get you to the hospital right now.’”
What her husband, Jay, a pediatric dentist in Webster, saw on that day in 2008 was the right side of his wife’s face drooping — a characteristic sign of a stroke.
According to the American Stroke Association, a stroke is the interruption of blood supply to the brain due to a clot or leakage of a blood vessel into the brain. Symptoms include sudden numbness, confusion and trouble seeing, as well as headache.
Skolnick was rushed to Strong Memorial Hospital, where she was told she was eight hours post-stroke. She was treated by Dr. John Deveikis and his wife, Susan Deveikis, nurse coordinator for neuro-endovascular service at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Deveikis works as a professor of imaging science and neurosurgery at the University of Rochester, and explained the relatively large time lapse in this case — clot-busting drugs usually need to be administered within three hours of onset — limited Skolnick’s chance of receiving aggressive treatments.
An MRI, akin to an X-ray, showed the source of Skolnick’s stroke: a clot in a major artery leading to her brain. In order to remove the blockage, Skolnick’s only option was a relatively new — and risky — surgical procedure performed by Deveikis.
“At that point, I couldn’t talk,” Skolnick said. “Basically I had a 50/50 chance, so we had to try.”
Fortunately, Skolnick walked out of the hospital five days later, though it has been a long road since then.
“I wasn’t completely recovered,” she said. “I was out of work for a month, and then I had physical therapy since I had been paralyzed on my right side, but I could speak and move.”
Deveikis and his team have been working for the past four months to prevent situations like Skolnick’s, with a new process that streamlines care and a patient’s access to the best treatment and technology for their case, regardless of what emergency department they arrive at initially.
Deveikis said by streamlining response times and services, “We can cut the threat of permanent disability in half.”
Skolnick was fortunate, but in the past, patients who received treatment several hours post-stroke were at risk for less successful outcomes, Deveikis said.
“With severe stroke, you used to put them to bed, cross your fingers that they would recover and then send them to rehabilitation,” Deveikis said.
Early treatment is still the priority, and it starts with getting the patient to the hospital fast.
“The most important thing is to call 911 first, as soon as possible,” said Germaine Reinhardt, a medical center spokeswoman.
“We can still treat people (regardless of when they get here),” Deveikis said. “But if we were able to get to the patient earlier, there is a greater chance of success.”
Skolnick, who works as a chemist for Bausch & Lomb in Rochester, said she is appreciating life on a higher level since her stroke, and considers herself lucky that she gets to spend time with her two sons, Max,16, and Alex,14, who attend Webster Schroeder.
“I enjoy a lot more and take more time to spend with my family,” she said. “I had no risk factors for stroke, and it’s still a question as to why it happened. I take an aspirin every day (as a precaution). Listen to your body, and know the signs of stroke. If you think something is wrong, don’t put it off.”