Signs of a stroke: Local doctor reveals symptoms to look for

PARMA- According to the American Stroke Association, stroke is the number one cause of disability in the United States.

James Calabrese was at risk of adding to that number on Christmas Day 2017. “As I sat at the table, all of a sudden my right arm went completely limp. I couldn’t pick nothing up; it just sagged,” Calabrese remembered.

“I could not feel anything, so I just said it has to be a stroke,” he said.

Calabrese was right. His wife called 911 and Parma EMS was at his house within minutes. When Calabrese got into the Parma Fire Department ambulance, a new use of technology was there to help save his life, connecting him to the emergency room doctor immediately.

“Our tele-stroke system was put into use and the jabber call was made and they said that Mr. Calabrese had right upper extremity weakness which was evident on the video so we initiated our stroke call at that time,” said Dr. Steve Lepsky.

Lepsky was the doctor in the Parma Emergency Department on the day of Calabrese’s stroke.

“They had me do the test into the screen and the doctor was on the other end seeing it so apparently when I got there they knew exactly what it was,” said Calabrese.

In the ambulance, paramedics do a series of stroke tests as the doctor watches from the emergency room. The doctor is then able to confirm the person is having a stroke and put the stroke team into action. They will clear the CT scan and begin mixing the clot-busting drug known as a TPA so that it’s ready when the patient arrives at the hospital.

The emergency department got a video call for a stroke while FOX 8 was there.

“It looks like she has right facial droop so she probably has a stroke. We don’t know if it’s a hemorrhagic stroke or an ischemic stroke,” said Dr. Lepsky of an elderly woman who was last seen normal earlier that morning.

Doctors sometimes call a stroke a “brain attack” because it’s a lack of oxygen to the brain. They say time is the single most important factor in treatment. If the patient is seen within a short window of time they can get that TPA and ideally reduce the long-term effects of the stroke.

Dr. Sheldon Rose is the chairman of the Parma UH Emergency Department and has overseen the implementation of the tele-stroke system.

“By having the medics do part of that for me in the field then all I need when the patient gets here is a CT scan,” Dr. Rose said.

Dr. Rose says in the case of a stroke, time equals brain, and his team is shortening the time it takes to get patients the potential stroke-reversal drug.

“When we first started doing this I would say our average time to give TPA was somewhere around 50 something minutes and now we are looking at 25-30 minutes,” Dr. Rose said.

Rose says there are key things people can look for if they believe someone near them has had a stroke or is having a stroke. Here are the signs to look for, according to Dr. Rose, "Look for symptoms like arm weakness or leg weakness on one side of the body. The person may also have slurred speech and facial droop on one side of their face. Less common symptoms are nausea and dizziness but in people who are more likely to have a stroke these should be taken seriously."

James Calabrese says he is often one to push aside small physical problems, but he’s glad that on Christmas he and his wife called 911.

“I was lucky. I mean I’m the type that every day I say, bah whatever, but now I look back three weeks later and think about it, I really was, I mean I really was,” Calabrese said.

And his advice to everyone else: “Don’t hesitate….even if it’s just numbness or something, don’t hesitate, call,” he said.

**Please note: This information is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor.The information above is based on experts in the medical/emergency medical field.**