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Posted on May 3, 2017 in Patient Stories

Stroke commercial reminds man to act quickly

Lying on the kitchen floor with coffee grounds strewn all about, Paul Schaab knew he needed to act fast.

Fast because he couldn’t talk. Fast because his right arm was paralyzed. And fast because his situation reminded him of the FAST (Face, Arm, Speech, Time) stroke awareness campaign he’d seen on television.

“As soon as I couldn’t talk, I knew what was wrong – I keep myself informed,” said Schaab, a 70-year-old Fairfield Glade resident, who four years earlier had the last of five heart stents implanted. “My cardiologist had told me, ‘Everything we are doing for you now is to keep you from having a stroke.’ I have a strong heart – it’s just the ‘plumbing’ that’s not good.”

But he had twice missed the basket on the coffeemaker one morning last July, tossing coffee all over the counter, the sink and the floor. The next thing he knew he was lying on the floor in a pile of coffee and thinking about that stroke commercial.

“The woman is standing there and people are all around her and trying to get her to talk, asking ‘What’s wrong? What’s wrong?’ Her mouth didn’t move, but she kept saying, ‘I’m having a stroke! I’m having a stroke!’ That message was in my head,” said Schaab. “I knew what was wrong, but how could I tell my wife?”

Fortunately, Schaab was able to temporarily regain his speech and pull himself to his feet long enough to explain to his wife, who had found him on the floor. “It wasn’t really talking – it was all slurred, and she looked at me and said, ‘What’s wrong?’ And I said, ‘There’s something wrong and it could be serious, but let’s get to the hospital and find out.’ I didn’t tell her I was having a stroke because she had to drive, and I didn’t want her to get too nervous.”

At Cumberland Medical Center, a Covenant Health hospital located in Crossville, the emergency department physician quickly recognized the symptoms, conferred with her colleagues at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center (FSRMC) and administered the clot-busting drug tPA (tissue plasminogen activator) before transporting Schaab to FSRMC by helicopter.

“When we got to Fort Sanders Regional, everything seemed to be coming around,” said Schaab, explaining that his speech had returned and he could move his arm again. “I honestly thought they were thinking about releasing me that afternoon because I felt good. But around 3 or 4 that afternoon, I couldn’t talk again.”

More CT scans revealed a clot inside Schaab’s brain.  Keith Woodward, MD, a neurointerventional radiologist, inserted a catheter into his patient’s groin and maneuvered it to the clot. As he began retrieving the clot, it broke in two. After several more attempts, he successfully extracted the remaining clot.

“I wanted to go home the next day, but they wouldn’t let me,” said Schaab, who was discharged two days later. Today, he is “feeling fine” and maintaining his active lifestyle.

“I exercise all the time, I ride bikes and do yardwork,” he said, adding that he recently did a 20-mile bike ride and walks three miles a day with his wife, five days a week, weather permitting.  

He credits Covenant Health’s stroke hospital network with the ability to stay active. His time at Cumberland Medical Center was brief, but he praised the emergency department doctor for recognizing his symptoms and acting quickly. Likewise, he praises Fort Sanders Regional’s Stroke Center, a facility recognized by the Joint Commission and the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association as a Comprehensive Stroke Center.

“I thought they were great,” he said. “The nurses were really nice. They did their job and they did it well. And Dr. Woodward, now he’s my kind of guy. All the doctors, all the nurses were enjoyable considering the situation. They were very nice. They did their job well and professionally.

 “I’ve had guys tell me that they would’ve probably just laid back down or something,” said Schaab. “And I tell them, ‘Wait a minute – you don’t understand what you’re doing.’ None of us are young anymore. We can’t afford to be macho and just say, ‘It’ll go away. It’ll pass.’

Dr. Woodward noted that a person’s age and the speed of intervention are key factors for stroke recovery. “Patients who are older or are slower to receive treatment may not regain as much functionality,” he said.

A voice of personal experience, Schaab understands the need for fast treatment of stroke. “You’ve only got so much time,” he said. “Don’t waste it – do something about it. Even if you’re wrong, you’re doing the right thing.”

Read other stroke stories here: www.fsregional.com/category/stroke/