Dan and Mary Karrick also give advice when a stroke is suspected
Dan and Mary Karrick are very early risers, and when Mary woke up on the morning of Aug. 24, 2021, and found her husband still asleep, she quietly left the bedroom and went to the kitchen. About 45 minutes later, Dan heard Mary making breakfast and got out of bed.
“I knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t grasp it,” Mary said.
Although he was walking just fine, it was Dan who had difficulty grasping and speaking clearly.
“I said, ‘Good morning,’ but I couldn’t understand him when he replied,” Mary said. “I asked him to repeat himself, and when he looked at me, his face was drooping. I was sure he was not OK, but I didn’t know it was a stroke.”
Dan proceeded to the refrigerator for his morning Mountain Dew, but his left hand wasn’t working. Dan offered to take their dog outside but dropped her when he tried to pick her up.
“I thought we needed to get him to the hospital,” Mary said. “But he argued with me. He wanted to get dressed and get to work. I should have picked up the phone right then and dialed 911.”
Time is brain.
Rano Chatterjee, MD, is an associate professor of neuroradiology, neurology and neurosurgery at Washington University School of Medicine and an interventional neuroradiologist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.
“When we say time is brain, it essentially means as soon as someone is having a stroke, we need to get blood flow restored to the brain as quickly as possible,” he said. “If there's blood supply to a specific area of the brain that's compromised, those areas of the brain are dying. The longer we wait, the larger the area of brain that is lost. The faster a patient gets to us, the quicker we can try to open things up and restore as much brain function as possible.”
Mary called her son-in-law to come over and verify that something was wrong. He lives 15-20 minutes away from the Karricks’ East Alton, Illinois, home, and Mary now tells everyone she knows not to wait for any length of time if a loved one is experiencing stroke symptoms.
“Don’t reason,” she said. “Don’t argue. Just dial 911.”
Remember: BE FAST
What are stroke symptoms? The acronym BE FAST may help you remember.
B – Balance issues
E – Eyes (vision problems)
F – Facial drooping
A – Arm weakness
S – Speech (incoherent, garbled speech or cannot find the right words)
T – Time to call 911!
Dr. Chatterjee said it’s difficult for someone experiencing stroke symptoms to know they may be having a stroke.
“It’s incredibly important for us as a community to remember BE FAST in people that we see,” he said. “Whether it’s someone in our family, or if we are in a public area and see someone having stroke symptoms … it’s very important to be able to identify this and call 911. Any one of us can make a big difference in someone’s life.”
Mary and Dan credit Dr. Chatterjee and his team for not only saving Dan’s life, but for ensuring his quality of life.
Mary drove her husband to the closest hospital, and the team at Alton Memorial Hospital performed a CT scan and a CT angiogram. The scans were sent to Barnes-Jewish Hospital, where a member of the neurology team read the scans and asked for Dan to be transferred via ambulance immediately. At the same time, Dr. Chatterjee said the stroke thrombectomy protocol was mobilized and ready for Dan when he arrived.
“The team of technologists, nurses and physicians was activated to get here as quickly as possible to be able to get Dan up to our angiography suite,” he said. “That is basically an X-ray table that we use to navigate and get into the brain as quickly as possible.”
The thrombectomy procedure removes the clot to restore blood flow to the brain.
“This is an exciting time for all of us involved in stroke treatment,” Dr. Chatterjee added. “It has only been since 2015 that we have had the scientific evidence and technological advances to do these procedures safely. We now have devices to be able to get inside the vessels of the brain from either the arm or the leg, take a small tube to the clot and suck it out.”
In Dan’s case, the two carotid arteries – the major blood vessels in the neck supplying blood to the brain – were severely narrowed.
Following Dan’s thrombectomy, he was moved to an ICU bed. Mary knew the moment she saw her husband of 30-plus years that he was back to his normal self.
“He didn’t remember anything from the morning, which is good,” Mary said. “He gave me his arm and it was fine. He spoke to me and I understood him. His face was no longer drooping.”
Dan was released on Saturday, went to church on Sunday and mowed his lawn later that afternoon. One year later, Dan is in good health.
Recognizing stroke symptoms and acting quickly are keys to saving someone’s life. Dr. Chatterjee added that it’s just as important to do everything you can to prevent a stroke in the first place.
“Things like diet and exercise are incredibly important,” he said. “Make sure your cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar are all under control. One of the most important factors is not smoking. If you’re a smoker, quitting is one of the hardest things to do, but taking steps to do that can have a major impact on your future quality of life.
"We know not all strokes can be prevented, but if everyone could take these preventative measures, we would happily be out of business treating stroke," he said. "And that would be a wonderful thing.”