Having a stroke is the fifth leading cause of death and a leading cause of disability in the United States. A stroke occurs when the blood flow to an area of the brain is interrupted by a blocked or broken blood vessel. A stroke can often leave long-term effects if not properly treated within two hours of the onset of symptoms. Recognizing common symptoms of a stroke and quickly taking action can minimize its lasting effects to an individual and even prevent death.
Such was the case for Greeneville, Tennessee native Jim Bunch. Jim was recently driving his wife, Renee, to a doctor’s appointment in Morristown when his head began to feel cloudy. “I woke up that morning feeling perfectly fine,” he said. “I remember suddenly feeling very drained and tired at some point during the trip.”
Renee said that Jim’s driving became erratic as they approached their destination. “His speech began to slur and he was losing coordination,” she said. “He insisted that nothing was wrong, though. Despite his slurred speech, he was still joking around with me and in good spirits.”
The couple decided it was best to have Renee drive back home to Greeneville after her appointment. Once Jim dropped her off and parked, he attempted to get out of the driver’s seat and walk around the car to the passenger’s seat. “I couldn’t move my left leg out of the car,” Jim said. “That’s when I knew something was wrong.”
Jim said he managed to make his way around the car by holding onto the hood, but his memory blanked out when he sat back down. “I found him unconscious in the passenger’s seat when I got out of my check-up,” Renee said. “He was very pale and his tongue was hanging out of his mouth.”
Renee’s first instinct was to drive her husband to the emergency room. She quickly realized she didn’t know exactly where the hospital was. She made the decision to pull the car over and call 911. Once an ambulance arrived, emergency responders were able to provide life-saving intervention that stabilized his vital signs. Once he was stable, the ambulance rushed him to Morristown-Hamblen Healthcare System (MHHS), a member of Covenant Health, where he was evaluated for stroke symptoms.
Luckily for Jim, he was a candidate for tissue plasminogen activator, or tPA. tPA works by dissolving the clot responsible for the stroke and improving blood flow to the brain. He was then transferred to the regions only comprehensive Stroke Center at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center, a member of Covenant Health, for further treatment.
While Jim’s memory did not fully return to him until the next day, his family said that his symptoms were already improving before leaving MHHS. After a thorough evaluation and observation, it was determined that Jim had no signs of brain damage or physical disabilities.
“If I had decided to stay at home that day instead of going with my wife to her doctor’s appointment, who knows what could have happened,” Jim said. “Had it not been for prayers being answered and the excellent care I received from the emergency responders and staff at Morristown-Hamblen, I might not still be alive today.” Jim said he was blessed to have received quick treatment, which resulted in him making a full recovery.
Leslie Mabe, Education and Stroke Coordinator at MHHS, said recognizing stroke symptoms and getting immediate help can mean the difference of life and death. “If you’re ever unsure if you or someone else are showing signs of a stroke, don’t hesitate to call 911,” she said. “Every second without proper treatment is critically important for the brain’s vitality.”
Mabe said an easy and effective way to learn the warning signs is to remember the acronym “BE FAST.” If you notice someone showing one or multiple of the following symptoms, they may be having a stroke:
B – Sudden loss of balance
E – Loss of vision in one or both eyes
F – Drooping or numbness of the face
A – Weakness or numbness in one arm
S – Slurred or difficulty speaking
T – Time to immediately call 911
According to the American Stroke Association, nearly 800,000 people in the United States have a stroke each year, with about 75 percent being first time strokes. “Research shows that only 21 percent of stroke patients arrive at the emergency department within two hours of their first signs of having a stroke,” Mabe said. “During this time, oxygen is being cut off from the brain and can lead to permanent disability or worse. It’s important to call 911 immediately if you see any signs of a stroke.”
As a member of Covenant Health, MHHS is a part of East Tennessee’s only Stroke Hospital Network. Each hospital in the network has the advanced diagnostics needed to diagnose a stroke and the ability to administer treatment. Across Covenant Health’s stroke network, more than 83 percent of patients who come to the emergency department with stroke symptoms are seen in less than 15 minutes.
For more information including risk factors, causes and symptoms, visit www.morristownhamblen.com/stroke.