Patient Stories

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Fast Treatment at a Stroke Center is Key to Survival
By Healthy Life 2010 Spring



It was a Saturday night like any other. Peabody resident Robert Kelly, 84, and his wife, Peg, were at home watching the evening news on television. Suddenly, Kelly, trying to comment on the story they were watching, realized he could not form a single word. Whenever he tried to speak, noise would come out of his mouth, but it was nothing close to the words he was trying to say. Kelly’s wife quickly called the office of Mahesh Wadhwa, M.D., Kelly’s primary care physician in Peabody. The office urged the Kellys to get to the nearest emergency room right away.

Kelly, who lives less than a mile from a Peabody hospital, got in the car with his wife and drove himself to the emergency room. “I realize now that was a big mistake,” explains Kelly. “I should have called an ambulance.” Had his condition worsened while he was behind the wheel, Kelly could have seriously injured himself or others. An ambulance would have gotten him into an emergency room faster, and the driver would have known to take Kelly to a designated Stroke Center  like NSMC Salem Hospital or NSMC Union Hospital in Lynn. Instead, Kelly sat in the waiting room, wasting valuable treatment time.

“The sooner we can assess patients with stroke symptoms the better,” explained Sanford Levy, M.D., the medical director of NSMC’s stroke program. “There are now medications that can be given to certain stroke patients to break up any blood clots in the brain and mitigate the effects of the stroke. This medication, and other treatments, are most effective when given in the first two hours after symptoms appear.”

For Kelly, his symptoms had all but disappeared on the way to the hospital, and he was able to speak again. But while he sat, waiting to be seen, another stroke occurred and once again he was unable to speak.

“They finally brought me in to see a doctor, but my wife had to do all of the talking. While I was waiting for a CT scan, the symptoms went away again,” Kelly said. “After the scan, the doctor said I had experienced a series of strokes.” A stroke occurs when blood flow to certain areas of the brain is cut off. Brain cells are deprived of the oxygen and glucose they need to survive and they die. The effects can be permanent, if not caught early.

“The emergency room physician wanted to send me to a hospital more than 20 minutes down the road for follow up care,” said Kelly “I didn’t want to be farther away from home or my doctor, so I insisted on going to North Shore Medical Center." Finally, more than six hours after his initial stroke, Kelly was taken by ambulance to NSMC Union Hospital and quickly admitted to the Intensive Care Unit.

An MRI revealed a blockage in the part of Kelly’s brain that controls speech. Over the next two days, Dr. Levy and his team of physicians and nurses watched over Kelly, making sure none of his symptoms returned and that his brain activity was back to normal. Kelly received speech therapy at NSMC Salem Hospital and has had a full recovery.

A local author and columnist, Kelly has also beaten cancer and shares what he’s learned. In 2003, he wrote a series of articles about his experience at the NSMC Cancer Center for the Salem News. “Going through cancer—and now this stroke—has taught me that I’m not immortal. My hope is that through my writings, sharing my experience will help others get through difficult times too,” said Kelly. “Now I’m sharing what I’ve learned about strokes—time is of the essence. Knowing the signs and symptoms of a stroke, and what hospitals near you are Stroke Centers, can save your life.”

Stroke Symptoms:

  • Weakness or numbness in the face, arm or one side of the body
  • Vision impairment
  • Loss of or difficulty speaking
  • Severe headache and loss of balance
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