Think FAST: A stroke can happen anytime

by FAST / 23 August, 2017
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The FAST campaign is in its second year and still going strong – the more people know how to recognise stroke, the better.

In her Wellington Regional Hospital office, Dr Anna Ranta was just finishing an interview about the FAST national stroke awareness campaign when her cell phone buzzed.

It was a Code Stroke – the warning that a patient was on their way by ambulance.

For Anna, it was time to end our interview and begin a familiar, brisk walk down the hospital corridors towards the Emergency Department.

Anna is one of a specialist team that swings into action for every stroke patient – it’s a job where minutes are precious, and can make the difference between full recovery and serious harm.

It’s why she’s so enthusiastic about the national campaign, FAST, which is all about getting every New Zealander to recognise the signs of a possible stroke and then act, because the last letter of FAST, T, stands for TIME – time to ring 111.

“People need to call for help fast because time is of the essence,” says Anna.

Dr Anna Ranta.

“And we need everyone to be aware of the FAST message. It’s not just the person having a stroke. Often it’s a bystander witnessing the person having the stroke symptoms.”

Anna says it really does come down to minutes – because of the damage when the brain is deprived of oxygen. Treat quickly, and the damage can be reversed but the longer the time before treatment, the more harm is done.

That’s why at the hospital, Code Stroke sets off a chain of events, fast. And it doesn’t matter whether its 3pm or 3am.

“The ambulance paramedics will assess the patient and on the way here, they’ll phone ahead so our Emergency Department knows the patient could be treated with clot-busting medication.

“ED then puts out a Code Stroke call that goes to the team on call. We then immediately go to ED ready to meet the patient at the door, and take them into a resuscitation room.

“We will have organised an urgent CT scan and further assessment. We then make a treatment decision in discussion with the patient and their family.”

Anna says diagnosis is crucial, as some strokes involve a brain bleed, rather than clots, which requires a very different treatment. In a few cases, there may be an option to use the very latest technique to extract a clot through a catheter, which is called endovascular clot retrieval.

“These treatments can be quite miraculous. It does not always work but when it works, it works really well. It makes a big difference in their lives. It’s wonderful to see them able to go home.”

Like the 70-year-old patient earlier in the week who had trouble moving his arm, and difficulty speaking. A little over 24 hours later, he was going home, with no weakness and no speech problems.

It’s the second year of the FAST campaign, and Anna and her colleagues on the stroke frontline can see it’s working: more people are coming in earlier with stroke symptoms.

But Anna wrapped up her interview with a plea to be put out of work one day.

“We have all these fantastic treatments but the best ‘intervention’ is to prevent a stroke in the first place. So get your blood pressure checked, exercise, eat a healthy diet and don’t smoke.”

And that’s when her cell-phone buzzed.

The Ministry of Health and the Health Promotion Agency are working with the Stroke Foundation to raise awareness that stroke is a medical emergency and to learn the signs of stroke.

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