It can happen at any age.
Areanna Ramsey, a 17-year-old New Hartford High School student, was getting ready for work one afternoon when suddenly she lost feeling in one side of her body. She fell to the floor and couldn’t speak.
"One minute I was talking, packing my backpack for work, and the next, I was on the floor and couldn’t move or speak," said Areanna. "It was a terrifying experience. It happened so suddenly and without any warning."
The family immediately called 911. The ambulance picked Areanna up within minutes and headed for Rome Memorial Hospital since she was at her father’s house in Rome, New York. However, as they examined Areanna, they felt her symptoms were indicating a stroke – as unlikely as that would be for a 17-year-old. They quickly changed course and headed to the St. Luke’s Campus of the Mohawk Valley Health System (MVHS), as it is the only designated Primary Stroke Center in the Mohawk Valley.
Emergency Medical Services (EMS) providers receive training to take stroke patients to the nearest stroke center as time is extremely critical when treating stroke patients. They notified the St. Luke’s Emergency Department (ED) that they were bringing in a suspected stroke patient which set the Stroke Team in motion.
The Stroke Team was ready when the ambulance arrived with Areanna.
"When Areanna arrived in the ED, she was displaying signs of confusion, had difficulty speaking and, while she was able to move her right side, it was extremely weak," said Scott S. Brehaut, MD, medical director for Stroke and Neurocritical Care. "We entertained all of the possibilities, but with those symptoms, you have to think stroke at the top of the list, even in younger patients.
"The first computed tomography (CT) scan came back negative, but based on Areanna’s confusion and language we wanted to be thorough. We performed a CT angiogram of her head and neck since it provides a more detailed look at the blood vessels. The second scan showed there was a total blockage in the first branch of the middle artery on her left side and there was no blood flow beyond."
According to the standards of care for stroke, the first step is administering intravenous therapy (IV) TPA, a clot-busting medication, followed by the removal of the clot. Clot removal requires a team of specially trained doctors and a very high-tech piece of equipment which MVHS recently invested in to treat patients like Areanna.
The standards of care regarding strokes are for individuals 18 years and older. Since Areanna was only 17, the Stroke Team needed her parents’ consent before administering the tPA and performing the clot retrieval.
"Dr. Brehaut told us Areanna was having a stroke and that her father and I needed to make some important decisions right away – my heart dropped," said Alicia Ramsey, Areanna’s mother. "After the explanation of what was happening and how the treatments could save her, we gave permission."
Areanna received the TPA and was then brought to the endovascular suites where Q. Tony Wang, MD, PhD, interventional neurologist at MVHS, made a small incision in her groin, inserted a catheter and removed the clot.
"The surgery took 24 minutes and when I woke up, I was perfectly fine," said Areanna. "When I opened my eyes, Dr. Wang told me to talk, and I could! I just kept saying thank you over and over again. I could walk within a day which was completely insane considering my condition when I came to the hospital. I am so grateful to everyone who took care of me."
Areanna was in the Intensive Care Unit at St. Luke’s for three days before going home. She has experienced some spastic attacks to her right hand as an after-effect of the stroke and is working with Dr. Brehaut to treat these attacks.
When asked what message she would like to share she said, "I want people to know that anyone can have a stroke and the timing is so important. I was told many times that if any part of my situation was different and treatment was delayed, my outcomes would have been very different. I am so grateful that we have these services in our area. It’s scary to think about what might have happened if I needed to travel further for treatment."