Feb. 29 started out as an ordinary day for Placerville resident Wayne Schoonover.
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A 57-year-old day trader with a home-based business, Schoonover was downstairs working on his computer.
“All of a sudden I noticed the mouse pointer wasn’t working and my computer mouse was upside down,” he said. “When I went to pick it up, I noticed that the right side of my body was numb and the radio was starting to sound ‘echoey’ and tinny.’ ”
At that point Schoonover considered that he might be having a stroke because he has a heart condition called atrial fibrillation or A-fib, which is an irregular heart beat. Though he had never had a stroke before, his cardiologist told him he was at risk of having one because A-fib can cause blood clots.
“I wondered if I could talk. But what came out sounded garbled, like Russian. Luckily I could walk so I got up to call 9-1-1 on the home phone. But initially I couldn’t remember what number to call. Was it 311, 411? Finally I remembered it was 911.
“The operator immediately knew what was wrong because she asked me if I was having a stroke. All I could mumble was yes or no. Then she had me write down ‘a-fib’ on a piece of paper to give to the paramedics.”
In five minutes they were at his door.
“I was very lucky,” he said. “If I had passed out things would have turned out differently.”
Once in the emergency room at Marshall Medical Center, he was treated by Dr. Alexis Lieser.
Lieser said that Schoonover was admitted with a mini stroke. But shortly after being in the hospital it worsened and he had a severe stroke. Once a CT scan and other tests confirmed that the stroke was caused by a blood clot and not a hemorrhage, they started him on a blood thinner called tissue plasminogen activator (t-PA), which dissolves blood clots.
A life saver, t-PA is also a dangerous drug because it can cause bleeding in the brain. According to Lieser, it has to be given within four and a half hours of the initial symptoms or it can’t be used at all.
“But because I got in there quickly, they had time to do the tests and find out what kind of stroke I had,” said Schoonover. “If a person has a stroke while asleep, there is no way to know when you actually had it. You can’t give t-PA to a person unless you know when they had the stroke or the person could die from the drug. The ER doctor said they only use the t-PA drug about five times a year because most people get there too late to use it.”
Schoonover said it took an hour to administer the medicine, but by the time they were finished, his speech was 90 percent back to normal and he was on his cell phone. He was numb for another five hours but then suddenly that went away as well. After three nights in the hospital, he was released.
Schoonover said two days prior to the stroke he had an A-fib attack. “It lasted all day and then stopped. I forgot about it but I think that’s when the blood clot was formed.
“The doctors did a million tests afterwards and couldn’t find anything,” he said. “The only side effect after the stroke was being very tired for several weeks. Now it’s like nothing ever happened. T-PA is a magic drug.”
Both Lieser and Schoonover emphasized the importance of getting to the hospital immediately if you suspect you are having a stroke.
“A stroke cuts off the blood supply and cells in the brain actually die,” said Lieser. There is permanent damage but we can save other parts of the brain if we treat the person early enough.”
“I’m pretty much back to normal now,” said Schoonover. “But my doctor wants me to lose 25 pounds. A-fib is a major cause of blood clots. And it’s a very common disease in people 50 years of age or older. It’s an electrical short in the heart. My father and sister both have A-fib. Just about everybody knows someone who has it. Generally A-fib doesn’t bother me other than knowing I have it.”
“A stroke is a brain attack, said Lieser. “It’s the same as a heart attack. However, bleeding stroke requires a different treatment than what Wayne had. It’s more complicated because people may be on medication or have had an injury. At least one person a day comes into the hospital thinking they have had a stroke. Low blood sugar is sometimes confused with a stroke.
As far as the outcome, Lieser said it depends on a person’s age and condition. “It takes three months to see what is and isn’t a permanent result. Make sure you get regular checkups and keep your blood pressure under control.”
Lieser emphasized the importance of calling for an ambulance if a person suspects they are having a stroke. “You don’t want to drive to the ER because you could pass out. If you have someone else drive you and the stroke worsens, they will have to call the paramedics from the car. It’s better to call 911 so the paramedics can begin treating you immediately. The paramedics are very good in this county.”
Schoonover agrees. “Don’t be afraid if you think you have the symptoms. Don’t deny it. Just call 911.”