Bridging the Great Health Divide | Seconds matter in stroke care

In parts of rural Ohio, some residents must travel about 40 minutes by ambulance to reach the nearest hospital.
Updated: May. 6, 2021 at 6:33 PM EDT
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JACKSON, Ohio (WSAZ) - The moment a 911 dispatcher takes a call of a patient who may have suffered a stroke, the clock is on.

“It’s very stressful,” said Susan Emmert, a paramedic. “You’re thinking, I need to get there fast and I need to get there safely.”

Once a patient is picked up and prepared for transport, EMTs begin a checklist of tests and assessments. Many people may spend precious time shrugging off their symptoms, or may not realize how serious a stroke can be.

“That’s why we’re here, you call 911 and we will take care of you,” Emmert said.

EMTs will call ahead to the hospital so they can prepare the computerized tomography scan, or CT machine. There are different kinds of strokes that require different types of treatment. But a neurologist is needed to determine the course of action.

In rural Ohio, doctors with specialties aren’t always available. So physicians use a Telestroke robot, a machine that connects them virtually with a specialist thanks to a partnership with Ohio State University who can monitor and evaluate a patient and choose a diagnosis and medication.

“This is a great game changer,” said Dr. Jonathan Hess, an emergency room physician. So you can have someone whose whole life and professional career is based on stroke neurology, to be there with the ER provider to help make those decisions.”

The most common clotting medication is tissue plasminogen activator (tPA).

“That medicine needs to be administered within four and a half hours of the patients onset,” said Dr. Hess. “So if we’re already 45 minutes out, plus EMS ride, plus the time you get here, most patients get here about two hours after symptom onset at the earliest so we only have about two and a half hours to start our protocol.”

At Holzer Medical Center in Jackson, Ohio, major hospitals are an hour and a half away by ground or about 25 minutes via air ambulance where most stroke patients will eventually be transported. The longer a patient waits for treatment, the greater the risk of long-term damage.

“Don’t take that chance for possible life-long of not being able to think straight or use a certain arm or leg,” said Dr. Hess.

From EMTs to emergency room doctors to neurologists, those quick second decisions that can save a life and make the high-stakes moment worth it.

“Just this past week, we had one we did not think was going to survive, but she came back and thanked us,” said Dr. Hess.

Each of these health care heroes agree, time is something we all could use a little more of.

To see previous coverage by InvestigateTV click here.

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