When Debbie Davis noticed her husband’s speech was garbled, she knew something was seriously wrong. “You could just see the frustration in his eyes,” she says, of her 69-year-old husband, Duane Clark.
“I knew what I wanted to say,” says Clark, “but I couldn’t get it out.”
Clark had stayed home from his job as vice president of engineering for a mechanical contractor that day, having taken a fall that morning as he got out of bed. He worked from home and felt fine most of the day, he says. But around 6 p.m., he called Davis back to the bedroom for help. Fearing her husband was suffering a stroke, she called his best friend and coworker, and they drove him to the Emergency Center at nearby Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center.
“From the moment we walked into that ER, I was amazed at how quickly everything happened,” says Davis. “Duane was immediately taken back for a CT scan, which showed a blood clot in the left side of his brain. Within minutes there were 10 or 12 doctors surrounding us. And another doctor was speaking to us from a TV screen they wheeled into the room on a pole.”
What Clark and Davis didn’t know at the time was that the minute Clark was identified as a suspected stroke patient, the Memorial Hermann Code Stroke Protocol was activated. A simultaneous alert went to members of the stroke team, including ER doctors, neurologists, radiologists and endovascular specialists. As Clark’s CT brain scan and CT brain angiogram were automatically uploaded into the Viz.ai platform, the software, using artificial intelligence (AI) learning, detected the presence of a large vessel occlusion, or LVO, and alerted the entire stroke team to its presence.
Among those alerted that day was vascular neurologist Tzu-Ching “Teddy” Wu, MD, stroke co-medical director for the Memorial Hermann Health System. Dr. Wu was also the doctor speaking from the “TV screen” (via telemedicine from Pearland at his Mischer Neuroscience Associates-affiliated practice) to the medical team and Davis at Memorial Hermann Memorial City.
“I explained that Mr. Clark was experiencing a blood clot-induced stroke for which we were administering the clot-busting drug tPA (tissue plasminogen activator),” says Wu. “We planned to take Mr. Clark to the angiography suite for possible endovascular therapy, for a thrombectomy, but fortunately the tPA worked, and the procedure was not necessary.”
Davis was amazed at how quickly the clot-buster worked. “When they began administering the tPA, Duane was confused,” she recalls. “They asked him how old he was, and he gave them two wrong answers. But within minutes he was better. You could literally watch him improve.”
“Four Memorial Hermann hospitals, including Memorial Hermann Memorial City, have been designated as Comprehensive Stroke Centers (CSCs), the most in Houston, offering the highest level of stroke care available,” says Dr. Wu. “And technologies such as telemedicine and the new Viz.ai platform have allowed us to expand access to that stroke expertise across the entire Memorial Hermann Health System, 24/7/365. Each patient gets the care they need. If they require a higher level of care than is provided at the initial facility, they will be transported to a Memorial Hermann facility that can provide that higher level of care. We are truly one large team, one system of care and the largest stroke system in the region.”
Dr. Wu credits Davis with recognizing the symptoms of stroke and getting her husband to the hospital. “Stroke is treatable, but there is a stroke chain of survival, and everyone has to do their part,” he says. “She deserves a shout-out for knowing what to look for and for acting so quickly.”
Clark, who is diabetic and hypertensive, has almost fully recovered. He is undergoing occupational therapy for some minor residual symptoms and is now under the ongoing care of a neurologist, in addition to his primary care physician and cardiologist.
The couple are grateful for the care they received. “Everyone jumped on point immediately,” says Davis. “I have never seen anyone move so fast. I was so impressed.”
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