Raleigh, N.C. — When someone experiences the symptoms of a stroke, the hospital they choose could determine their survival.
The Joint Commission, a non-profit health care standards organization, has a new designation to recognize the “best” stroke care programs.
Duke and UNC Hospitals are among the few in the country certified as Advanced Comprehensive Stroke Care Centers.
On July 29, 56-year-old Joe Vetter was having trouble sleeping due to what he thought was indigestion. By morning, he felt fine.
“When I got out of the shower, it was like somebody shut the lights off,” Vetter said. “I went completely blind in both eyes,” he said.
A CT scan at Duke confirmed that Vetter had suffered a stroke. His sight gradually returned, but not completely in one eye.
Duke neurologist Dr. Larry Goldstein says it’s understandable that neither Vetter nor his wife recognized his temporary blindness as a sign of a stroke.
Blindness is not included in the common stroke acronym: F.A.S.T.
The acronym reminds patients to look for facial dropping, arm weakness, slurred speech and “T”-- time.
“Time saved is brain saved,” Goldstein said. “Every minute that goes by before we can treat (a stroke), the likelihood of benefit from clot busting drugs is going down,” he added.
The certification of Duke and UNC as Advanced Comprehensive Stroke Care Centers recognizes their ability to quickly test for a stroke and provide all options for intervention.
“Putting a catheter, for example, into a brain artery to remove a clot,” Goldstein said.
Though Vetter’s CT scans revealed signs of stroke in the vision center of his brain, there was no clot detected. He is now on blood-thinning medication and making lifestyle changes to prevent a future stroke.
“It was a wake-up call,” Vetter said. “I am very blessed. It could have been 10 times worse,” he said.
While North Carolina is lucky to have two major hospitals with the highest stroke care designation, the Triangle also has several Primary Stroke Centers, including Rex in Raleigh and WakeMed in Raleigh and Cary. There were also several others throughout the state that meet a high standard for stroke response.