Life-saving connection made to NE Arkansas

PARAGOULD, AR (KAIT) - Rural Arkansas hospitals now have more weapons to use in the fight against stroke.  Arkansas Methodist Medical Center finds one connection to be a life-saver.  It involves a statewide network of telemedicine.

One of the first people to experience all of this was Marica Griffith.  Her world changed  forever on a Friday.

"I knew something bad was wrong," said Griffith.  She was working as a bank teller.  "I just excused myself from my station, grabbed my phone and went to the bathroom.  I called my husband and said get here now!  That's the last thing I remember."

"When she presented, she couldn't talk," said Robin Smith, Emergency Room facilitator at AMMC.   "She had no use of her right side. She was trying to mouth words, but she couldn't speak complete sentences."

Thirty minutes after arriving at AMMC, Marica was being "seen" by a neurologist in Little Rock -- miles away, via a high-tech video link.  It's all part of a program called Arkansas Saves, short for Stroke Assistance through Virtual Emergency Support, and it saves valuable time.

"There's about a three--maybe a four-hour window of opportunity to take care of these stroke patients," said Dr. Michael Johnson, AMMC ER medical director.  Once a patient arrives in the ER, a neurological exam is given, blood is drawn and a CT scan of the head is taken.  After that, video-conferencing with a UAMS neurologist begins. The neurologist is crucial in making the call as to whether a patient like Griffith receives t-PA, a clot-busting treatment.  The drug is a lifesaver for some; but can be a detriment to others.  It can only be administered during the first 4 1/2 hours following a stroke.

"Anybody who gets outside that window has an increased chance of bleeding because this medication, t-PA, is a clot buster," explained Smith.  The 6.1 million dollar Arkansas Saves program unites Arkansas Methodist and several other rural hospitals with UAMS in Little Rock.  Another major hub is in Fort Smith.

"It's immediate medicine.  Absolutely!" said Tammy Northcutt, Nurse Liaison on for the Arkansas Saves Call Center.  "We can get the quickest and best assessments.  Then help our physicians and our ER staff to get the best care to their patients quickly."  But all this technology means nothing if warning signs of a stroke are ignored.  They are: weakness or numbness of the face, arm, leg, or one side of the body, difficulty speaking or understanding, dizziness, problems walking or severe headaches, nausea or loss of consciousness.

"We have a lot of them that wait," said Smith.  "Oh, it will go away (they think).  And they're eating up valuable time before they decide..'oh, it's not getting any better.'"  And for Griffith that time made all the difference in the world.

"I was told not very long ago, that if I wouldn't have had the drug, that I possibly could have been wheelchair-bound or bed-bound or the third, gone," said Marica.  Within 15 minutes of receiving, t-PA, Marica began to regain movement on her right side.

"By the time we transferred her to ICU, she was laughing as she came out the door," said Smith.  "And she was kind of talking.  It's amazing how fast it can work!" Griffith's not back to normal just yet and she still has considerable pain, can't write or walk like she used to.  But she says she feels fortunate to have a second chance at being a wife and grandmother.  Griffith is the fourth person to receive t-PA as part of the Arkansas Saves program at AMMC.