WAXAHACHIE — Stroke, sometimes called a "brain attack," is a leading cause of disability and death in the United States. While most people probably know someone who has had a stroke, few people understand exactly what it is and how quickly receiving the correct care can significantly improve the chances of survival and quality of life.

“You lose about a million brain cells a minute during a stroke, so the quicker you can get treatment, the fewer brain cells you lose and the less damage is done,” explained Todd Aspegren, MD, medical director of the Emergency Department at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Waxahachie.

Stroke is something that Ellis County health care providers are seeing more frequently, according to Karen Pickard, stroke coordination for Baylor Scott & White – Waxahachie. It’s a trend she expects to continue, and one of the reasons the medical center has focused on bolstering its stroke program, including recently achieving the national recognition of Advanced Certification for Primary Stroke Centers. This certification recognizes the hospital’s commitment to having the processes, people and tools in place to provide quality care to stroke patients.

“Stroke is most common in patients 65 to 85, and we have an aging population in Ellis County,” Pickard said. “We’re seeing a high number of strokes, and we want to be in a position to meet that need.”

There are two types of stroke. Ischemic stroke occurs when there is a blockage in a vessel supplying blood to the brain and accounts for 87 percent of all stroke cases according to the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association (AHA/ASA). Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a vessel supplying blood to the brain ruptures.

There’s no way to know which type of stroke someone may be suffering without an imaging procedure – another reason to seek medical care as soon as the stroke is suspected.

“If you feel like you or someone you’re with is having a stroke, call an ambulance rather than trying to drive to the hospital because paramedics can initiate stroke care in the field,” advises Dr. Aspegren.

Stopping Brain Loss

At Baylor Scott & White – Waxahachie, patients arriving at the hospital’s Emergency Department with stroke symptoms are treated with the utmost urgency. The patient is immediately taken for a brain CT scan (a type of advanced imaging procedure), and evaluated by a physician on the medical staff as well as over a live video feed by a stroke specialist on the medical staff at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas 30 miles away.

“We then make a determination if a powerful clot-busting medication called TPA should be given or if another treatment option should be pursued,” explained Dr. Aspegren. “It’s vital that TPA be given within the first three to four hours of a stroke, otherwise it’s ineffective.”

TLC after TPA

Providing care that leads to the best outcome for a stroke patient involves more than just the right medicine. It also involves emotional and social support for patients and their families. The road back from a stroke can be long. It may include months of rehabilitation and family members who are ready, willing and able to be caregivers.

“Following up with patients, it’s amazing how well many of them are doing,” Pickard said. “And the ones that do best are the ones with strong family support and having gone into a good rehab program whether it’s here with us or somewhere else.”

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Physicians provide clinical services as members of the medical staff at one of Baylor Scott & White Health’s subsidiary, community or affiliated medical centers and do not provide clinical services as employees or agents of those medical centers, Baylor Health Care System, Scott & White Healthcare or Baylor Scott & White Health.