Stroke Survivor Shares Her Experience to Help Save Lives
Carolyn Harris was ready to leave her North Richland Hills home for work one morning last November when something went very wrong. The active 53-year-old was literally stopped in her tracks by a stroke.
“I started feeling light-headed and very weird,’’ recalled Harris, a dietitian whose work involves frequent travel. “I lay down on my bedroom floor and decided I needed to call 9-1-1. As I was trying to walk to the phone, I tripped and realized that something was wrong with my left leg – it wasn’t working properly. By the time I got to the phone, I was having uncontrolled arm movements, my vision blurred and I couldn’t even find the buttons on the phone to dial 9-1-1.
“That’s when I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, you idiot, you’re having a stroke and you’re going to die!’ ” Harris continued. “I prayed for God to help me, and I was able to feel the buttons on the phone and dial my husband’s number – he had left for work a short while earlier. He understood me saying the word ‘stroke’ and called 9-1-1.”
A stroke, or brain attack, happens when blood flow to the brain is blocked, usually by a blood clot. It often hits without warning. If blood flow stops for longer than a few seconds, brain cells die, and the abilities controlled by that area of the brain can be lost.
Emergency medical personnel from the North Richland Hills Fire Department arrived quickly to help Harris and advised her that they should immediately take her to Plaza Medical Center in Fort Worth because of Plaza’s specialized stroke care certifications and expertise. Plaza, part of HCA North Texas, is a Certified Comprehensive Stroke Center.
At Plaza Medical Center, the hospital’s emergency team first treated Harris with a clot busting medication. Then, imaging tests and consults with physicians from HCA’s Texas Stroke Institute confirmed that Harris had a cerebral basilar artery occlusion, one of the most fatal types of strokes. In this type of stroke, a blood clot blocks an artery that provides blood to the brain stem.
The decision was made to surgically remove the clot. Texas Stroke Institute neurologist Ryan Gianatasio, M.D., used the award-winning Stryker Trevo ProVue Stentriever at Plaza Medical Center to target and remove the clot, restoring blood flow to the brain. Plaza is the only hospital in Tarrant County certified to offer this life-saving technology up to 12 hours after stroke onset. The Stryker device recently earned the Galien Foundation’s award for Best Medical Technology for this first-of-its-kind device to help stroke victims.
Harris’ treatment and the clot retrieval procedure were so successful that she was released from the hospital five days after her stroke. She has been able to resume a normal life and return to work.
“Cases like Carolyn’s are a living testament to how powerful this technology really is,” Dr. Gianatasio said. “This clot retrieval procedure is truly saving lives.”
Harris is speaking out about her stroke experience because she wants to help other people remember the F-A-S-T way to recognize stroke so they can get help quickly:
F – Face. Ask the person to smile. Does one side of his face droop?
A – Arms. Ask the person to raise both arms. Is one arm weaker or drifting downward?
S – Speech. Ask the person his name and age. Is his speech slurred?
T – Time. If you observe any of these signs, it’s time to call 9-1-1.
Acting quickly is essential because, for stroke patients, time lost is brain lost.
“I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about what happened to people who didn’t get the care they needed quickly enough,” Harris said. “I’m very grateful for the care I received at Plaza.”
Harris’ experience has inspired her to “give back” by becoming part of the Plaza Medical Center patient experience team, providing feedback and ideas on how the hospital can continue improving care and experiences for its patients.
“Thank you letters just didn’t seem enough for saving my life,” Harris added.