Mary’s Story: Stroke of Luck

Many people can thank co-workers for a cup of coffee or another kindness. Mary Cummings of Springboro can thank them for giving her life back to her.

In September 2015, Mary was in training for the second night on her new job as a delivery person for the Dayton Daily News, at their production facility off of I-75, south of Dayton.

“All of a sudden, I couldn’t control my left arm,” she remembers. “When people around me asked what was wrong, I couldn’t speak. I was very confused but I thought I was having a panic attack.”

Mary’s co-workers called 911 to get immediate help.

“The paramedics gave me a choice of two hospitals,” she says. “When they said Atrium, I nodded because I remembered the wonderful care my mom got there. I’m glad I was with it enough to do that.”

Well-Coordinated Emergency Care

During transport, the EMS team called a Stroke Alert to the Emergency Trauma Center at Atrium Medical Center. Atrium is a Certified Primary Stroke Center with a well-coordinated program specifically designed to treat strokes swiftly and effectively.

A specialized stroke team was on hand to help Mary the minute she arrived.

“Having the right stroke protocol in place is critically important to treat the patient as quickly as possible,” says neurologist Subodh K. Wadhwa, MD.

When he evaluated Mary, then 47, he saw classic stroke symptoms.

“She had mild facial weakness, trouble understanding people and could not form sentences,” he reports. “She was a good candidate for tPA.”

The medication known as tPA (tissue plasminogen activator) is a clot-buster drug. Although it's not for everyone (such as people taking blood thinners), tPA can greatly diminish the results of a stroke, but it must be administered as quickly as possible after the stroke begins. The medicine is given intravenously and takes about an hour.

“This stroke treatment can remove life-altering deficits,” says Dr. Wadhwa, who has been administering tPA since 1997. “I have seen stroke symptoms melt away while the drug is still infusing; in other cases, it can take up to 90 days to work to full capacity.”

Mary recalls some, but not all of what happened in the emergency room.

“I remember not being able to give the names of my husband, LeRoy, or my six sons and two stepsons,” she says.

Mary was admitted to Atrium, where her recovery was closely monitored; she also underwent important therapies.

“The way I was cared for made a big difference,” she says.

By the next day, Mary was talking much better and could speak with moderately complex speech.

“By the eighth day, the day of her discharge, Mary was speaking in clear and complete sentences," says Dr. Wadhwa.

Today, Mary reports she still struggles with some short-term memory issues but is thrilled with her recovery. In fact, in February, Mary resumed taking her online college classes. She was in the third year of earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting, with a 3.1 grade point average.

Although her recovery prevented her from returning to the job for which she was in training, Mary has profound gratitude for the co-workers whose quick action got her help.

“Just like with a heart attack, a stroke needs immediate medical intervention,” she says. “When people are acting strangely and not responding to you, don’t wait! Call 911 right away. You can save them.”

BE FAST, Save a Life

Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death and the number one cause of disability in the U.S. Sudden stroke symptoms include:

  • Numbness of weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body 
  • Confusion, trouble speaking or understanding 
  • Trouble seeing 
  • Dizziness, loss of balance or coordination, trouble walking 
  • Severe headache with no known cause 

Learn to recognize stroke symptoms and warnings signs. An easy way to remember what to look for is to think and BE FAST:

B — Balance: Does the person have a sudden loss of balance?
E — Eyes: Has the person lost vision in one or both eyes?
F — Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
A — Arm: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S — Speech: Ask the person to say something. Is the speech slurred or garbled?
T — Time: If you notice any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately. Time is critical!

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