Faster stroke treatment improves survival, reduces disability

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- When a person is having a stroke, 30,000 nerve cells die each minute that passes without treatment. A big study finds efforts by some hospitals to get a drug to patients sooner are saving more lives and preventing disability.

Shirley Robertson is piecing a quilt for her granddaughter. Her ability was in jeopardy in February when she suddenly had trouble seeing out of one eye. Then her leg went numb. Robertson immediately thought it could be a stroke.

"Something was wrong and called 911," she said.

An ambulance rushed Robertson to Research Medical Center where they quickly did some blood testing and took her to the CT scanner. The scan showed she didn't have brain damage yet, and she didn't have bleeding. Her stroke was caused by a blood clot. That meant she could get tPA, a drug to bust up the clot and reverse the stroke. The time from the door of the emergency room to injecting the drug was 51 minutes.

"Sooner you get the drug, the better the results are," said Dr. Iftekhar Ahmed, a neurologist at Research.

Robertson said her stroke symptoms quickly went away.

"Within an hour, I was almost well," she said.

No paralysis. A new study in JAMA looked at 71,000 stroke patients at hospitals including Research. The hospitals adopted the "Target: Stroke" initiative in 2010. Researchers found the percentage of patients receiving treatment within an hour after arrival increased from less than a third to more than half. At Research, it's three-quarters.

The shorter time to treatment resulted in fewer deaths. More people were able to walk independently and return home.

"There's improvement in every single category of stroke," said Dr. Ahmed.

The doctor said there is room for more improvement by hospitals. But Robertson said her stroke experience couldn't have been better.

"Took care of business right then. It was wonderful," she said.

Because of speedy treatment, Robertson remains independent.

Of course, hospitals can't treat you if you don't seek help. If you have sudden numbness or weakness, sudden trouble seeing or speaking, don't delay. Call 911.

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