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Your Healthy Family: The difference a mobile stroke unit can make

Posted at 1:20 PM, Jul 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-16 15:20:27-04

There are many reasons why Margie Churchill survived a stroke.  First and foremost is that her husband, Norm, quickly recognized the signs of a stroke and knew to call 911.  Another reason Margie survived is because when 911 was called, The UCHealth Mobile Stroke Treatment Unit just happened to be nearby.

Kirstin Buchanan, a registered nurse and a charge nurse on the MSTU, says the unit had just begun a new phase in operations in Colorado Springs.  “I was actually collecting the data for the multi-site national study on August 24th, 2017, and Margie was our first patient (involved in the study).”

Norm and Margie had just picked up their dog Ethel from Sunrise Kennels in Colorado Springs when Margie collapsed in the parking lot.  Doug Johnson, the owner of Sunrise Kennels, called 911 and rushed the phone out to Norm.

Norm recalls: “They handed me the telephone, and the very first thing I said to the 911 operator was ‘stroke symptoms.’  I don’t know if it had any effect on the folks that responded.”

Turns out recognizing the symptoms of a stroke and communicating that to the 911 operator did, indeed, make a big difference.

Kirstin says, “The fact that when Norm spoke to the 911 dispatcher and said ‘I think she’s having a stroke’ just set a whole series of events in motion.  The Mobile Stroke Treatment Unit will be dispatched straight away.”

Norm says Margie was treated effectively and quickly.  “She got care, I always said in 45 minutes, but Kirstin says it was 42.”

Besides having a CT scanner on board, the MSTU also carries medication to treat certain kinds of strokes.  “If you have are having an ischemic stroke, we can give you tPA medication, (transplasminagenic plasma activator) right there in the field.  This is not done anywhere else. Normally you get that tPA medication in an emergency room setting.”

Because Margie is one of the patients the unit responded to as part of the multi-site  national research study, Kirstin is keeping in touch with her and monitoring the progress she is making.

Kirstin says, “It’s amazing to be able to see the progress that Margie has made since the day that she had her stroke.  I was a like ‘wow we don’t know how this is going to go.’ But the quick treatment and the fast actions of everybody is why she is where she is today.”

Norm says he hopes mobile stroke units will become more commonplace across the nation so that more people can get the help his wife did.  “When I hit the big lottery I will buy four or five of them. I’m just hoping the data collected does something good for society in general, because there is a lot of stroke victims out there that don’t get the care they need in a hurry. We were very very fortunate.”