A major stroke can be life threatening or, at least, life changing. But it doesn't always have to be. Ask Brian Swope of Medford. The 55-year-old was stricken on March 20. Five days later, he was home and riding his bicycle.
The procedure that saved his life is called a mechanical thrombectomy, where doctors maneuver a catheter through an artery and then use a device to trap and remove the blood clot that caused the stroke. Swope's surgery was the first one done at Providence Medford Medical Center.
But not all strokes are alike, and certain criteria must be met before the procedure can even be considered. According to Dr. Eric Palmer, the interventional radiologist who operated on Swope, time is of the essence.
"A patient needs to get to the ER within six hours," he says. "The longer it takes to get to them, the more the brain is starved of oxygen, and the more the tissue is dead or dying."
The location and size of the clot also are factors. It has to be on the large side and located in a major blood vessel, giving the surgeon room to maneuver.
Swope's stroke paralyzed the left side of his body, but a friend got him to the ER within 20 minutes. With all of the criteria met, Palmer operated. Afterwards, Swope was able to grip with his left hand. The next day, he was trying to get out of bed. Four days later he was walking.
Palmer cautions that not all mechanical thrombectomies produce such dramatic results, but they can help lessen the severity of the physical aftermath of a stroke. Everyone should know the signs of a stroke, he stresses, and waste no time in getting the patient to the ER.
Swope knows how lucky he is. "The nurses said that if they weren't able to do it, I might have been paralyzed. Or unable to talk. Or possibly dead," he says. "Getting to the hospital that quickly and being able to qualify for the surgery made it possible for them to save me."