Imagine you’re doing some ordinary activity—shopping, cooking, reading a book—when, suddenly, you feel strange. You try to speak, but can’t. Your vision is blurred. One side of your body is weak. Maybe one side of your face droops. What do you do? Lie down and hope it goes away? Take an aspirin? Drive to the emergency room? The answer is none of the above. Instead, immediately call 911 for an ambulance, because you may be having a stroke.

Stroke is the number one cause of adult disability in the United States and a leading cause of death. Stroke occurs when blood flow in the brain is blocked, either by a clot in a brain blood vessel—this is called ischemic stroke—or when a brain blood vessel ruptures, causing bleeding. This is called hemorrhagic stroke. More than 80 percent of strokes are ischemic, but both kinds constitute a medical emergency, and every second counts.

“Stroke is a treatable emergency if caught early enough, but time is brain,” says Dr. Timothy Parsons, a neurologist and medical director of the Stroke Center at The Hospital of Central Connecticut (HOCC). “Two million neurons are lost every minute during a stroke. The earlier you can interrupt that process, the less disability you’ll be dealing with down the road.”

The best place to get treatment is at a hospital such as HOCC, which has a Stroke Center certified by the Joint Commission, a respected, not-for-profit organization that accredits and certifies thousands of healthcare organizations and programs nationwide. These are hospitals proven to consistently provide timely, evidence-based stroke care. HOCC’s excellence in stroke care has been recognized by the American Stroke Association for three consecutive years. HOCC provides emergency stroke treatment at both its New Britain General and Bradley Memorial campuses.

At HOCC, patients with ischemic stroke are treated with tPA, an intravenous drug that dissolves the clot. “We urge people to come in quickly, because tPA is more effective in reducing brain injury the earlier you give it,” says Parsons. “After about four hours, tPA is no longer an option.” If the blockage is in a very large blood vessel, the patient may be transferred to Hartford Hospital to have the clot physically extracted. “This doesn’t happen often, but we have rapid access to that high level of care when it’s needed,” Parsons says.

Once the immediate crisis is over, patients are admitted for observation, testing and the development of a plan for recovery. “We start thinking about rehabilitation right away,” says Parsons. “If someone needs speech therapy or other services, we initiate that.”

Educating patients and families is an important part of HOCC’s stroke services. “I educate them on signs and symptoms and how to modify their lifestyle to reduce their personal risk factors for stroke,” says Kristen Hickey, RN, MSN, stroke coordinator for Hartford HealthCare’s Central Region. “A patient who’s had a stroke is at a high risk for another.” Risk factors that can be modified include high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking and high cholesterol.

In addition to educating inpatients and the community, Hickey tracks the Stroke Center’s performance to ensure care meets the highest standards. “Not every hospital can provide this high standard of care for stroke,” she says.

Learn more about our stroke care services by visiting The Hospital of Central Connecticut's website.

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