Jim Wilkins’ life changed forever when he had a stroke one night. Not recognizing the symptoms—blurred vision, numbness, trouble walking—he delayed getting help until morning. But with every passing minute, more damage was done to his brain.
By the time Jim arrived at the hospital, about nine hours after his symptoms began, the stroke had robbed him of the ability to walk and affected his balance, speech and manual dexterity.
Like Jim, many stroke patients wait hours, or even days, to seek medical attention. As a result, stroke is the third leading cause of death and the number one cause of disability in the United States, according to the American Stroke Association. Yet it doesn’t have to be that way, says Angie West, R.N., neuro/stroke program director. “Stroke should always be considered a medical emergency. You should call 9-1-1 at the first sign of stroke,” she states.
As a primary stroke center certified by the Joint Commission, Long Beach Memorial follows national standards and guidelines to significantly improve outcomes of stroke patients. As soon as individuals with stroke symptoms enter the emergency department, pre-established protocols are initiated and patients are immediately assessed for appropriate medical intervention.
A majority of patients have ischemic strokes—the result of reduced blood flow to the brain due to a clot or narrowed blood vessel. Many ischemic strokes can be treated with a clot-busting drug, but this medication must be administered within three hours of the onset of symptoms. A smaller number have hemorrhagic strokes, which occur when a blood vessel in the brain leaks or ruptures. Hemorrhagic strokes must be treated immediately to control bleeding, reduce pressure in the brain and stabilize vital signs. “Time is brain. A fast response can make an enormous difference in outcomes,” says Angie.
Once a patient is stabilized and treated, the MemorialCare Stroke Center at Long Beach Memorial provides inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation services to help people regain lost skills and restore independence. Rehab begins in the intensive care unit and continues long after stroke patients leave the hospital.
Long Beach Memorial’s Home and Community Day Treatment Program is the only one of its kind in the Los Angeles area, and it’s a program that can work miracles. Just ask Jim Wilkins. When he entered the Stroke Rehabilitation Program, Jim weighed more than 300 pounds, had been smoking for 35 years, and suffered from dangerously high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
The Long Beach resident underwent extensive therapy for six months. With the help of a dedicated team of specialists, he learned how to walk again on a special body-weight support treadmill, regained his balance, coordination, and speech with intensive exercises. Throughout the entire process, he received tremendous encouragement from the Long Beach Memorial staff.
Today, Jim walks unassisted, rides a bike and has become an inspirational public speaker. His blood pressure is under control, he quit smoking, and most astonishingly, lost 120 pounds in less than a year. He credits his strong faith and the extraordinary care he received at Long Beach Memorial for his recovery. “Whenever I see Jim, it brings tears to my eyes,” says Angie. “He’s one of the most amazing people I know—not just for his achievements, but also for his attitude.”
Indeed, Jim sees his stroke as a gift—a second chance at a well-lived life. “When I get a wake-up call, I listen,” he says. His message to others is to do the same. “If you have stroke symptoms, get help immediately. With the right care, no one has to die.”