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Stroke Drug Can Save Life, Prevent Brain Damage

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States and a major cause of disability. If you get help soon enough, a special drug called TPA may save your life and prevent brain damage.

More than a year ago, Michelle Sanford's husband recognized the symptoms of stroke, so he helped her get the care she needed quickly.

"He had noticed that my face fell on the left side," she said.

The whole left side of Sanford's body went limp, and she could not speak. A blood clot traveled to her brain and blocked a vessel.

"Time lost is brain lost. What we are trying to do is to intervene as early as possible," neurologist Dr. Larry Goldstein said.

Goldstein is on a national task force to improve care within the first three hours of a stroke. Health experts said permanent brain damage can begin in that period of time unless a drug called TPA is injected to dissolve the clot. Help is at the nearest emergency room stroke center.

"In fact, they have to get there within two hours because it generally takes us within about an hour to do all the things that we need to do to evaluate someone to see if they can get that drug safely," Goldstein said.

TPA could cause side effects or even a second type of stroke, bleeding in the brain, but it saved Sanford from permanent brain damage.

"The key is to have somebody who can see the signs immediately, call 911 and get you to an emergency room," Sanford said.

Earlier in February, the American Stroke Association's task force cited problems that need improvement.

  • Ambulance crews need to take stroke patients, not just to the nearest hospital, but to those with the equipment and expertise to give TPA injections.
  • Emergency room doctors are often gun-shy about giving TPA and may need a neurologist on staff to advise them.
  • Hospital phone operators also need better training in answering stroke calls.
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