June 4, 2012 started out like a typical day for 62-year-old Rancho Palos Verdes resident Ken Beck. As a business consultant for IBM, he'd spent the morning working in his home office before heading upstairs to use the bathroom.
"I'd just washed my hands and was walking out through the bedroom," Beck recalls. "All of a sudden, I felt a dizzy spell, but I didn't lose my balance. It was strange." He sat down, hoping the dizzy spell would pass, but he soon realized that his situation was more serious than he'd initially thought. "I got up, and my left foot took a step, but it was like my right foot was stuck in glue," he adds. "I started talking to myself, and my voice was slurred . . . that's when I was pretty sure I was having a stroke."
Disoriented and unsure what to do, Beck changed clothes and tried to call his girlfriend of more than 16 years, Gerry. Unable to reach her, however, he hung up and dialed 911. An ambulance was at his doorstep in less than five minutes, and the EMTs quickly confirmed his suspicions. They rushed him to Torrance Memorial Medical Center, a designated Stroke Center of Excellence, and Beck started receiving treatment less than an hour after the onset of his symptoms.
According to Ed Nazareth, registered nurse and program coordinator for the Stroke Center of Excellence, Beck's speedy reaction probably saved him from more serious impairment or even death. "He came in time to receive all the protocols," Nazareth notes. "If you recognize a stroke quickly, so many things can happen."
By arriving within what Nazareth and his team call the "golden hour," Beck had a much higher chance of a positive outcome, since he qualified for an advanced medicine called tPA, or tissue plasminogen activator. tPA only works within the first few hours of a stroke, and the highly qualified staff of doctors, nurses and medical professionals at the Stroke Center of Excellence have been specially trained in protocols that get patients tested and receiving treatment in record time.
"Four percent of all stroke patients get a chance to receive tPA in a typical community setting," Nazareth explains, "but research shows that if you have a stroke center of excellence, [the number of] people who can get treated is higher. You can treat up to 10% to 20% of stroke patients with a stroke center."
"I STARTED TALKING TO MYSELF, AND MY VOICE WAS SLURRED . . . THAT'S WHEN I WAS PRETTY SURE I WAS HAVING A STROKE."
Patients who come in within three to six hours also have options available to them, thanks to Torrance Memorial's cutting-edge interventional radiology department. Leaders in their field, such as
George So, MD, and
Donny Baek, MD, can remove blood clots from the brain through minimally invasive procedures, which often lead to a patient's full recovery.
However, since treatment options diminish with each successive hour a patient waits before receiving care, the key to stroke recovery is recognizing the symptoms immediately and calling 911. As Nazareth explains, strokes are the third leading cause of death in the United States, and they are particularly insidious since they are rarely accompanied by pain.
"The symptoms can be very mild, and they can come and go," Nazareth says, explaining why many patients fail to seek treatment in a timely fashion. As a result, the stroke center's team of doctors, nurses and therapists work tirelessly to spread the word to the community about the danger of strokes, in addition to their efforts to continuously improve the program to keep pace with exciting new developments in the field.
In May 2012, the Stroke Center of Excellence won the Silver Plus Award from the American Heart Association, and they plan to continue to advance their tPA protocols and interventional techniques over the years ahead. "It's great to see how everybody comes together for a common cause," Nazareth says. "We all want to do the best we can for the patients. It's awesome to see that selflessness."
Less than a week after his stroke, Beck was already nearly fully recovered and extremely grateful for the high quality of care he received during his time at Torrance Memorial. "I feel very lucky," Beck enthuses, adding that the experience has given him a new lease on life.
Before his stroke, he was a self-proclaimed "home body," preferring quiet nights at home with Gerry, with only the occasional night out to eat at the Original Red Onion or to watch the sunset from Villa Sonoma. Now he has started a weight loss regimen and plans to exercise more and spend more time with his girlfriend and two adult children. "I've got a second chance, and I'm not going to throw it away," he says.