Stroke Can Strike at Any Time

When a stroke hit Scott Peters of Weyauwega in January, he had no idea what happened.

In fact, he does not remember much of those two or three days after he was admitted to the Stroke Center located at Theda Clark Medical Center in Neenah.

“All of a sudden I felt a little groggy, so I stopped and that’s when it all started happening,” said Peters, 53, who was working when he suffered a stroke. “I could only see out of one of my eyes because the stroke took away part of my eye sight.”

Peters was transported by ambulance to New London Family Medical Center, where he was given intervention medication. He was flown by ThedaStar to the Theda Clark Stroke Center, where he underwent surgery on a clot on the base of the left hemisphere, at the base of the brain.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke. In 2008 alone, more than 133,000 Americans died from stroke — or one person every four minutes — making it the fourth leading cause of death in the United States.

Peters was in good health before his strokes; he had a second one shortly after returning home and had to be hospitalized again. “I’d seen my doctor probably for a normal visit and he said everything looked good,” he said.

A stroke, sometimes called a brain attack, occurs when a blockage stops the flow of blood to the brain or when a blood vessel in or around the brain bursts. Although many people think of stroke as a condition that affects only older adults, strokes can and do occur in people of all ages. In fact, nearly a quarter of all strokes occur in people younger than age 65.

“It very well could be you,” said Peters. “The biggest thing I learned, you definitely don’t take anything for granted because it can be taken away from you in a heartbeat.”

Todd Peebles, MD, endovascular neuroradiologist at the Theda Clark Stroke Center, who also works with Radiology Associates of the Fox Valley, said a patient needs to seek immediate medical attention at the local hospital when suspecting the signs of a stroke.

“Time is brain,” he said. “You lose almost 2 million neurons per minute.”

Demographic factors such as family history, age, sex and race/ethnicity can all play a role in an individual's stroke risk. Regardless of background, there are also risk factors like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and smoking, which can be maintained to prevent a stroke.

At the hospital, doctors can evaluate for a stroke, which is “something that is treatable, either with IV medication or a clot retrieval procedure,” said Dr. Peebles, noting that at the Stroke Center “we have all of the latest, most recently approved devices for stroke retrieval.”

Dr. Peebles said when a stroke patient is admitted, the necessary doctors and staff are called in to act immediately. “It’s a very mature network that exists because of all the hard work that was done over the last eight years or more,” he said.

Some patients come in with a severe deficit, said Dr. Peebles. Others may have suffered a transient ischemic attack, or TIA, which is a temporarily inadequate blood flow or a very small stroke, he said. Those also require immediate treatment. “Evidence is mounting that those people suffering from TIAs are at an increased risk of suffering a stroke in ten days to two weeks,” he said

Unfortunately, he said, people often “wait to see if it will go away. That’s the worst thing they can do. If people wait too long, the stroke is too far established for us to do anything.”

Strokes often lead to serious, life-changing complications that include paralysis or weakness on one side of the body; problems with thinking, awareness, attention, learning, judgment, and memory; problems understanding or forming speech; difficulty controlling or expressing emotions; numbness or strange sensations; pain in the hands and feet; and depression.

Many stroke sufferers require physical or speech therapy following a stroke. After his stroke, Peters went through speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy. “I’m gradually getting better,” said Peters.

Peters is grateful for the care he has received from the ThedaCare team of doctors and therapists. “They are just super people down there that helped a lot,” he said. “The biggest thing was if it wasn’t for the people that I had helping me through this, I don’t know if I would have made it.”

When responding to a stroke, every minute counts. The sooner a patient receives medical treatment, the lower the risk for death or disability. If you or someone you know exhibits the following signs or symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately:

  • Numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Confusion, trouble speaking, or difficulty understanding
  • Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Trouble walking, dizziness, or loss of balance and coordination
  • Severe headache with no known cause