Stroke awareness program stresses crucial 3-hour treatment window
Nancy Gillespie was driving her kids to school in September when she went blind.
She had no warning of the powerful stroke that temporarily blocked her vision, and she doesn't remember much right before she passed out. Her daughter Mara, now 12, jumped out to dial 911 and summon a neighbor.
“When I woke up, I was in the intensive care unit, probably until the next morning,” said Gillespie, 49, of Shaler, whose recovery will take center stage on Tuesday at PNC Park during a Pirates game against the San Francisco Giants. “I think it was the early diagnosis that saved my life, definitely.”
Though Mara's quick action got Gillespie rapid attention to avoid permanent injuries, thousands of Americans aren't so fortunate. About 80 percent of stroke victims miss a three-hour window for a critical emergency treatment, often because loved ones don't recognize the symptoms, said Larry Schaer, associate director at the Peoria, Ill.-based Strike Out Stroke campaign.
The national stroke awareness program will make a Pittsburgh debut just before the Pirates game, where Gillespie, her family and her doctors from the Comprehensive Stroke Center at Allegheny General Hospital will stand for an on-field salute.
“Treatment needs to be given urgently,” said Jack Protetch, stroke program coordinator at AGH.
The time element is crucial, because doctors often will not administer a key blood clot-killing medicine more than three hours after stroke symptoms materialize, said Dr. Crystal Wong, an AGH neurologist who treated Gillespie. She said the treatment, known as tissue plasminogen activator, or tPA, can lose effectiveness after that window.
Stroke patients who receive the intravenous treatment have a 30 percent higher chance that their symptoms, such as slurred speech or numbness, will dissipate before turning permanent, Wong said.
“We all see quite a number of people who had symptoms last night and waited six hours or half a day for the symptoms to go away,” she said.
Schaer cited several straightforward ways to spot a stroke:
• Ask the person to smile. If his or her face droops on one side, the person is probably having a stroke.
• Ask the person to lift both arms with palms facing up. If the person is having a stroke, one of those arms will probably drift down.
• Ask the person to repeat a sentence of three to five words. If the person has trouble repeating the phrase clearly or has slurred speech, he or she is probably having a stroke.
“Every minute, they're losing 1.9 million brain cells,” Schaer said of the 800,000 stroke victims reported each year in the United States. “Having knowledge will make a big difference.”
Adam Smeltz is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Linebacker Harrison coming along slowly since return to Steelers
- Corbett, Wolf resort to sticks, stones to attract attention
- Armstrong in test program using slag on icy roads
- Critics claim state Attorney General Kane puts politics first
- New Kensington to convert tennis courts to dek hockey rink
- Lower Burrell man charged with shoplifting
- DEP orders cleanup of former Jeannette Glass property to resume
- Zappala impersonation suspect arrested; stores offered reimbursement
- Freeport man accused of having child pornography images
- Recognition key to winning 33rd District
- Steelers notebook: Shazier returns just in time