Airlift man recovers thanks to stroke thrombolysis

For Brandon man Michael Garner a day out in Thetford Forest turned into a near-death experience after he fell seriously ill when a blood clot on the brain caused a stroke.

Mr Garner had taken a friend's dogs for a walk in the forest but was found collapsed in bracken by some passers by. The dogs had stayed with Mr Garner, were circling him, and helped alert passers by to the stricken man.

They called 999 and the East of England Ambulance NHS Trust despatched Anglia One, the air ambulance operated by the East Anglian Air Ambulance charity, to Thetford Forest and airlifted him to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

On arrival at NNUH, Mr Garner, 65, was rapidly diagnosed, by CT brain scan, with an acute ischaemic stroke. This type of stroke means a blood clot was cutting off the blood supply in his brain. Thrombolysis – clot busting drugs – were quickly administered to destroy the clot and restore blood supply.

The stroke happened on March 31 2009 and Mr Garner has since made a steady recovery – thanks to the quick intervention of the air ambulance which rapidly got him to hospital, stroke thrombolysis at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, rehabilitation at Newmarket Hospital and at home.

Mr Garner spent a month recovering on the Gunthorpe Acute Stroke Unit at NNUH and another month rehabilitating at Newmarket Hospital before he returned to his Brandon home. Mr Garner continues to make a good recovery and is being supported at home by occupational therapists and physiotherapists.

His wife, Marion, said: “We knew nothing about stroke before it happened to Michael and it is absolutely devastating the effect it can have on a person. I think everyone should recognise the signs and know what to do through the FAST test. They were great at the hospital and if you saw him now, he's a walking miracle, he's come on in leaps and bounds.”

NNUH consultant stroke physician Dr Kneale Metcalf said: “The stroke thrombolysis service was first introduced in December 2008 and extended to a 24/7 service in June and Mr Garner's story illustrates just how important it is to get help quickly if someone has had a stroke. Mr Garner had an ischaemic stroke and although he was found in Thetford Forest he was quickly airlifted to us and our team were able to administer thrombolysis within three hours.

“Many people do not understand what a stroke is and they don't know what the symptoms are. We would ask people to learn about the FAST test, encourage people to recognise the symptoms and then take immediate action.”

FAST – Face, Arm, Speech, Time to call 999. FAST is a simple test to help people to recognise the signs of stroke and understand the importance of fast emergency treatment. The FAST acronym was created by the Stroke Association and is used to assess three symptoms:

  • Facial weakness – Can the person smile? Has their mouth or eye dropped? 
  • Arm weakness – Can they raise both arms? 
  • Speech problems – Can you understand what they are trying to say? Are they speaking clearly? 
  • Time to call 999.

Since December 2008 thrombolysis treatment – or clot busting treatment – has been given to suitable stroke patients who arrive at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital within three hours of onset of acute stroke. It can have a major impact on the patient’s recovery and reduce the risk of brain damage and resulting disabilities.

The service sees patients being met at the hospital by a specialist team of nurses and doctors who work with A&E staff and the admissions unit to confirm the stroke diagnosis. Once a brain scan has been done the decision to begin thrombolysis treatment is made by a consultant specialising in stroke.

It is estimated that around 10% of stroke patients are suitable for the treatment.

Strokes happen when the blood supply, carrying essential nutrients and oxygen, to part of the brain is cut-off. This can be caused by a blood clot (ischaemic stroke) in a blood vessel or by a burst blood vessel (haemorrhagic stroke) that causes a bleed in the brain.

A stroke can leave brain cells damaged or destroyed, affecting body functions. For example, if a stroke damages the part of the brain that controls how limbs move, the person will have difficulty moving their arms.

Symptoms occur suddenly and can include:

– numbness, weakness or paralysis on one side of the body (signs of this may be a drooping arm, leg or lower eyelid, or a dribbling mouth)
– slurred speech or difficulty finding words or understanding speech
– sudden blurred vision or loss of sight
– a severe headache.

Stroke comes on suddenly and can cause:

– paralysis or loss of muscle control, usually on one side of the face and body
– difficulty with language – speaking, understanding what people say, reading and writing
– blurred double vision or loss of eyesight
– problems in thinking, memory, concentration and alertness
– depression, anxiety, mood swings and extreme tiredness.

But studies show that if the patient is treated immediately, the risk of long-term damage is reduced, which is why the FAST test is so important in spotting the signs.

Wednesday 16th of September 2009 10:00:51 AM