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Sound Health is a recurring series that airs twice each month on WGLT's Sound Ideas program.Support for Sound Health comes from Carle Health, bringing care, coverage, support, healthcare research and education to central Illinois and beyond.

'Miracle' drug: Bloomington-Normal hospitals begin new, faster treatment for stroke victims

 Melissa Reidy and Peg Shea embrace
Eric Stock
Carle BroMenn stroke program coordinator Melissa Reidy shares a laugh with Peg Shea, the hospital's first patient to receive a TNK treatment following a stroke.

Peg Shea of Bloomington doesn't remember much about what happened on April 15.

Shea was in the hospital preparing for surgery on her spine. A nurse came to check on her and noticed Shea was struggling to speak and her right side appeared weak.

“I was asleep and then I was awake,” Shea recalled. “People are telling me to move my right hand, move my left hand, can you roll over? Can you do all of these instructions?”

Shea later found out she was having a stroke. She was given an IV of what's called TNK, Tenecteplace. It's a clot-busting agent that's been used previously to treat blood clots near the heart and lungs. Now it’s used to treat the most common type of stroke, acute ischemic stroke, where a clot blocks blood from getting to the brain.

Shea became the first patient at Carle BroMenn Medical Center to get the TNK injection.

It worked. She said the doctor did a happy dance.

“My doctor said, ‘You’re a miracle Peg.’ I don’t know how to think about that, but I am thankful,” Shea said.

Someone suffering a stroke loses nearly 2 million brain cells each minute, so a fast response is critical.

In this edition of WGLT’s Sound Health, Bloomington-Normal hospitals have started using this new treatment that administrators say is faster to deliver and will likely lead to a greater chance of recovery from a stroke.

Shea said she's also grateful she was already at the hospital when her stroke began. Melissa Reidy, stroke program coordinator at Carle BroMenn, said timing explains why medical professionals believe TNK will be more effective than previous treatments.

"The best part about this drug is it's easier for our pharmacist to mix up and for the nursing staff to administer to the patient so we can treat patients quicker and help their symptoms subside even quicker than before," Reidy said.

Reidy said when Carle BroMenn receives a stroke patient, the hospital issues a stroke alert. She said that happens about 400 times per year. She said only a small fraction of those were already in the hospital like Peg Shea was, so that means response times can vary widely.

Reidy said TNK can work within 4 ½ hours of the first stroke symptoms.

“The best part about this drug is that it’s easier for your pharmacist to mix and for the nursing staff to administer to the patient, so we can treat patients quicker and help their symptoms subside even quicker than before,” Reidy said.

Reidy said in Shea's case, the IV was injected 34 minutes after a nurse detected the stroke.

Virtual neurology

Another way Carle BroMenn tries to trim critical minutes off response times is through the use of a telehealth service specifically for stroke victims. The hospital has contracted with Colorado-based Blue Sky Neurology to have a neurologist on standby remotely around the clock. They provide an initial assessment via video monitor and determine if the patient needs the TNK injection.

Reidy said that neurologist can respond within minutes, often more quickly than an on-call neurologist can respond in person.

“If we had a stroke alert it would take the physician some time, especially if it was a stroke alert at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning. We would call them, wake them up out of bed. They would have to make their way to the hospital,” Reidy sald.

Carle BroMenn has used the tele-stroke service for four years, but it just debuted at Carle Eureka Hospital last month. Reidy said response times can also be helped by the patient themselves by watching for warning signs.

There's an acronym the medical community uses for detecting signs of a stroke - BE FAST. (Balance, eyes, face, arms, speech, and time – as in it’s time to call 911).

Reedy said it's also important to watch risk factors, which include diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking and lack of exercise or sleep.

Shea was fortunate she didn't need to call 911. She was already in the hospital. But she's had her own share of health misfortunes. Her narrowing spine has made it difficult for her to walk long distances, so she uses a wheelchair. Surgery is on hold because she had to go on blood thinners due to the stroke.

“I’m between a rock and a hard spot right now — being in a wheelchair, in pain, knowing I need surgery but it’s doubtful,” Shea said.

Shea has had two strokes. The first was a few years ago. Reidy said people who suffer a stroke are more likely to have a second stroke.

Shea said she carries that mental burden with her, partly because she sees the toll strokes have taken on others where she lives at the Luther Oaks retirement community in Bloomington. Shea said she is grateful that she shows no apparent signs of damage from her first two strokes.

“I would say I’m as sharp as ever, and that of course is subject to determination of how you consider sharp to be,” Shea quipped. “But I have no problems that I’m aware of.”

And the strokes have not hurt her sense of humor.

Shea said she just hopes if she has another stroke, she can get treated as fast as she did the last time.

Officials at OSF HealthCare say they have also started to provide TNK treatments to stroke patients.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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