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Lesson for Life

Posted on February 9, 2017 in Patient Stories

Within hours after a stroke had garbled her speech and paralyzed her right hand, West View Elementary School principal Beth Blevins was making plans to turn her nightmare into a learning experience.

From her hospital bed in the Neuro-Intensive Care Unit at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center, Blevins was working to bring the hospital’s elementary stroke education program to West View for all 201 of her pre-kindergarten through fifth graders to see.

“On that day when I had no control in the morning, by that afternoon I was already starting to put my life back in place,” said Blevins, who had only learned of the program minutes earlier when she was introduced to Jered Collis, one of two registered nurses who cared for her in NICU.

“When Jered found out I was an elementary school principal, he told me that Fort Sanders has this educational outreach program that goes into schools and teaches kids to recognize a stroke,” Blevins said. “I said ‘Absolutely!’ When you feel out of control, you need to start feeling in control of something. When he connected me with this program, I immediately started to get some of my control back and that to me was key to recovery.” 

Blevins suffered a stroke as she arrived at school that morning on Dec. 1. The school’s safety patrol watched she was loaded into the ambulance. Within 38 minutes, she was at Fort Sanders, receiving the clot-busting drug, tPA. “Within 10 minutes of them putting the tPA in my system, everything came back!” she exclaimed. “Everything!”

Before she knew it, she was in NICU and being introduced to Collis, who immediately put at her ease. He explained her treatment and showed his concern as he told her about the hospital’s stroke education program for kids. “He was phenomenal,” Blevins said. “He told me everything that I needed to know, everything that was happening with me, everything about every procedure. He was wonderful.”

Collis wasn’t the only one who impressed her.

“From the moment that I was taken off of the stretcher and put into my first CAT scan everybody at Fort Sanders was wonderful,” she said. “Even though I couldn’t speak, they didn’t assume that I couldn’t think. It was a scary time and it was important to me that they talked me through everything.” 

Blevins was discharged the following day with only a lingering headache and some mild cognition problems. Two weeks later, she was back in school finalizing plans for a Dec. 22 program on stroke recognition presented by Fort Sanders’ stroke team.

“Before we left for the holidays, all of my school kids had received this education and the book, ‘Can My Dog Have a Stroke?’” said Blevins. “They learned about the brain and what a stroke really is and what a stroke really isn’t. Every one of my kids now know about it and they’re not scared, which is really good because, as much as I wanted to protect them from that, they saw the ambulance come for me that day.”

FAST payoff for Stroke Team Program 

Students attending the Dec. 22 stroke education program at West View Elementary learned a lot a complicated topic – stroke. Through the analogy of a traffic jam, they learned how the blood flows through the brain. They learned how to recognize the signs of a stroke using the FAST (Face, Arm, Speech, Time) acronym. They watched a short cartoon with a catchy tune about stroke, and they talked about exercise and eating right – and they asked questions.

“It is important for elementary students to know about stroke because more people are having strokes at an earlier age – about 40 percent of our patient population are younger than 65 years old,” said registered nurse Tracy Dwight, stroke coordinator at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center. “We hope to send the message that the children can be the ‘stroke heroes’ for their family if someone experiences signs and symptoms of a stroke. We encourage the children to call 9-1-1 if needed and we go through a mock call to practice what to say.”

Launched in December 2014 to meet a Joint Commission standard requiring a comprehensive stroke center to reach out to the community to offer stroke education, the program’s first stop was Dogwood Elementary School in south Knoxville.

“We thought it would be fun to reach out to children and so we targeted third graders,” said Dwight. “We were trying to think outside the box and target a different audience.”

Along the way, the students’ questions inspired another project: a book titled, “Can My Dog Have a Stroke?” A copy of the book is included in goody bags given to the kids during the half-hour program. The bag also includes a brain-shaped stress ball, a refrigerator magnet, an activity book and wallet cards with the FAST message.

When a stroke sent West View’s Blevins to the hospital on Dec. 1, she learned about the program from her nurse and immediately wanted to bring it to her students. “I couldn’t believe it when I heard she had requested to see the book,” said Dwight. “We didn’t have a pulse on how effective the book would be or how the community might receive it. When we received the request, it sort of confirmed that we really have made an impact for stroke education in our community. It was an ‘aha’ moment that affirmed we could be making a difference.”

East Tennessee teachers interested in scheduling the elementary stroke education program for their school should contact Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center at 865-541-1111 for assistance.