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The right call for stroke is 9-1-1

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April 27, 2017

Contact:  Jon Ebelt, Public Information Officer, DPHHS, (406) 444-0936

                Chuck Council, Communications Specialist, DPHHS, (406) 444-4391


The right call for stroke is 9-1-1


Northern Montana Health Care and the Montana Cardiovascular Health Program are reminding residents of northcentral Montana that the fastest access to stroke treatment is by ambulance.

“Making the right call is vital to stroke recovery,” said Amy Jones, RN, Nursing Director of ER and ICU at Northern Montana Health Care. “The ambulance service alerts medical and radiology staff. Care starts sooner when patients arrive by ambulance—and time is critical in stroke treatment.”

Stroke occurs when blood flow to an area of the brain is interrupted. During a stroke, about two million brain cells die every minute.

“Minutes matter in the treatment of stroke—losing time means losing brain,” said Dr. Erik Sandstrom, Director of Emergency Department at NMHC.

For the most common type of stroke, clot-busting medication can be given to interrupt the stroke and limit the damage stroke can cause. Long-term disability can be prevented if blood flow is restored quickly. The catch is that the medication must be given within four and a half hours from the start of symptoms.

“Taking time to transport a patient to a larger medical center can rule out treatment options,” Dr. Sandstrom explained.

The solution is the Montana Telestroke Program, which uses technology to combat the critical time factor. Northern Montana Health Care is one of 12 rural hospitals in the state equipped with telestroke—internet-based two-way audio and video communication with a neurologist.

Through the telestroke system, a stroke neurologist in Great Falls, Colorado, Oregon or Washington can examine a patient in Havre. The neurologist is able to view brain images and lab results. Local emergency department staff help with the patient’s physical assessment. The result is faster diagnosis and treatment.  

“Telestroke allows rural residents to receive the early treatment they need for the best chance of recovery,” Amy Jones, RN, said. “Around the clock, we can connect a patient with a doctor who has seen many, many strokes. That patient may be moved on to a more advanced stroke facility later, but the care they get here in the first hours of their stroke may mean the difference between going back to a normal life or living with a lasting disability.”

In an average year, over 30 Hill County residents—nearly 3 a month—suffer a stroke.

During the next two months, information about how to help identify the signs of stroke will be distributed to Hill County residents through local community organizations. Symptoms can include drooping on one side of the face, weakness in an arm or leg, or confused speech. Anyone who witnesses these signs should call 9-1-1 immediately. They should also note the time symptoms started.

“Stroke is a leading cause of long-term adult disability. It can change lives and take away independence. The more you know, the more you can protect yourself and your family,” Dr. Erik Sandstrom advised.

Nine out of ten strokes can be prevented by controlling risk factors. In the most recent Community Health Assessment for Hill County, 30 percent of residents had been told they have high blood pressure and 30 percent had high cholesterol—both are risk factors for stroke. Talk to your doctor to learn your risk. For more information about stroke, visit strokeassociation.org.

Sudden Signs of Stroke

·         Numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body

·         Confusion, trouble speaking or understanding others

·         Trouble seeing in one or both eyes

·         Dizziness, loss of balance or trouble walking

·         Severe headache with no known cause