Stroke van helping stroke patients in the Valley

When someone is having a stroke, getting treatment quickly can be the difference between continuing with the life they once had or being permanently disabled, perhaps even unable to care for themselves.

A new tool available in the Valley is Barrow Neurological Institute's Stroke Van, an ambulance that rushes out on 911 calls that involve potential stroke patients, and the results are nothing short of amazing.

Two weeks prior to an interview with Michael Smith by FOX 10's Kari Lake, he had the scare of a lifetime.

"I was putting peanut butter on an English Muffin, and I realized I was putting more peanut butter on my hand than on the muffin," said Smith. "I tried to put the knife down and I couldn't let go, and I said 'Mary, I'm having a stroke.'"

Smith's wife called 911, and within minutes, he was on a stretcher rolling out of his high rise condo.

"The stroke van was there, and I thought my day just got a lot better," said Smith.

Next to the regular ambulance was the special stroke care ambulance. It is complete with CAT scan capabilities, powerful clot busting medicines, and a staff trained to treat stroke patients. It even has a live camera linking the van back to a stroke doctor at the Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joe's.

"When we initially got to him, he was not moving anything on his left side, his left arm his left leg," said nurse Richard Hernandez. "Most of the strokes we run into, as far as the ones we can treat in the back of this unit, are the ones that are ischemic, a clot comes from someone in your body into your brain that cut blood flow off to you brain.

Quick access to a powerful drug to break up clots can make a huge difference in recovering from a stroke, or being left permanently debilitated by it. The key, however, is to start that IV drip immediately.

"Seconds count. Minutes count. Hours count," said Hernandez. "There's only so long we can get you the medication to reverse this stuff."

They started the meds, and within 15 minutes, saw a huge improvement.

"While we were rolling into the hospital, [Smith] said the left side of my head itches, and it was actually quite funny, because he actually lifted his left arm and started scratching his head," said Hernandez. "It was amazing to see and to watch."

This van brings the care people would normally only get in the hospital to their driveway instead. Even if Smith would have been rushed to the hospital for treatment, that would have taken too long.

"It took ten minutes to drive to the hospital, 12 in an ambulance to drive from here to St. Joe's," said Smith. "It would have taken another 25 to 45 minutes to get the TPA shot at the hospital, so that's another 50 minutes, almost an hour that I didn't have damage to the brain."

"This is a perfect case of time matters," said Hernandez. "They called right away and we were able to help this man, hopefully get his life back."

Less than two weeks after the stroke, Smith is getting his life back. While Smith still uses a walker when he's outside his home, he does not inside. The crew who treated him two weeks ago is thrilled at his recovery."

"I was very happy to see him," said Hernandez. 'Today when I saw him, I was amazed this was the same person.'

Smith knows if the stroke van hadn't met him on the curb, the outcome would have been really bad.

As for recognizing signs of stroke, there is the acronym FAST: