PINEHURST – During 30 years as an aviator with the U.S. Navy, Samuel Sayers served two tours of duty in Vietnam and was shot down and rescued once. After retiring as a captain in 1986, he worked as a Navy consultant on a Stealth aircraft design.
But no manner of life or military experience could have prepared him for the Wednesday morning in February when he walked up the stairs in his Pinehurst home, sat down at his computer and had a stroke.
Mary and Samuel Sayers are pictured in their Pinehurst residence just two months after a stroke left him paralyzed on his right side and unable to speak. Sayers is now completely recovered – thanks to his wife's quick response to his symptoms and the clot-busting treatment he got in the appropriate amount of time. May is Stroke Awareness Month, a time to take special note of the signs and symptoms of the leading cause of serious long-term disability and the third leading cause of death in the U.S.
“That’s the last thing I remember,” he says.
The 79-year-old Sayers is lucky. His wife recognized his symptoms and called 911. An EMT team stationed in the Rescue Squad building on nearby McCaskill Road East got him to FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital quickly.
After a CT scan indicated that a clot from a blockage in his carotid artery had cut off the blood flow to his brain, he received a clot-busting medication that restored his voice and the movement in his paralyzed right side within minutes.
He left the hospital on the following Sunday and is now completely recovered – except in one respect.
“My golf game's a little different,” Sayers says, “but I can live with that.”
As Americans observe May as Stroke Awareness Month, Sayers is an encouraging example of what quick and appropriate treatment can mean to stroke recovery. Many stroke patients aren't nearly as fortunate as he was.
“Within minutes (of a stroke), the brain begins to die,” says Sarah Uffindell, M.D., a neurohospitalist with Moore Regional Hospital. “If we intervene quickly enough, we can reverse it.”
Because Mary Sayers recognized her husband's symptoms and responded immediately, she probably saved his life and certainly contributed to his quick recovery. Sometimes, Dr. Uffindell says, the symptoms are ignored or patients believe they will improve with time and/or rest when just the opposite is true.
“Mrs. Sayers did the right thing, by getting him here immediately,” Dr. Uffindell says.
Dr. Uffindell was in the hospital the day Sayers was brought in and told Mary Sayers about the availability of the FDA-approved tPA medication as soon as the scan revealed the source of her husband's stroke. There are risks, Sayers was told, but the results usually outweigh them.
For Mary Sayers, there was only one possible response. “The man's a naval aviator,” she told Dr. Uffindell. “He's going to go for the gold.”
There is a recognized three-hour window for tPA effectiveness after the first onset of stroke symptoms. As Mary Sayers recalls, it was roughly two hours and 10 minutes after his stroke that her husband got the medication.
According to Dr. Uffindell, it was about 20 minutes after the tPA was administered that Sayers began to recover. Because his was a very soft clot, it started to break up immediately, restoring the blood flow to his brain and relieving his symptoms.
“It was very exciting to us when we were treating him and he suddenly started talking,” Dr. Uffindell says.
Mary Sayers recalls another response. “He could not move,” she says. “Then, on his own, he took his right hand and touched his nose.”
Instead of the immediate and complete recovery that Samuel Sayers experienced, most stroke patients will require more hospitalization as well as time in inpatient rehab and/or with outpatient therapists to overcome their impairments. According to Dr. Uffindell, although many will leave the hospital with some form of disability, statistics indicate that, patients who receive tPA will overall have less disability and be more likely to be independent.
“The quicker somebody gets to the hospital, the better,” she says. “The chances (for recovery) lessen with time. The earlier, the better is the response.”
Because Sayers still has a blockage of about 60 percent in the artery, and because there are risks associated with trying to open it further, his condition is being closely monitored. He will need a monitoring ultrasound of the artery every six months for the foreseeable future.
His wife has also taken steps to lessen his risk factors by virtually eliminating their meat consumption and by adding lots of fresh fruits and vegetables to their diet. Sayers is working with a physical therapist to try to regain the golf handicap that took a dive with his illness.
“He’s under medical care, and he’s making a lot of lifestyle changes,” says Dr. Uffindel. “There are things people can do, and these things do matter. Nothing is 100 percent, but they do reduce the risk factors. It’s all about educating people.”
In case of stroke, it's best to act FAST
Because time is such a factor in stroke treatment, it is important to know and be able to recognize the symptoms of stroke, the third leading cause of death and the leading cause of serious long-term disability in the U.S. Acting on the following information, indicated by the acronym FAST, could make a difference.
- Face: Look for an uneven smile
- Arm: Check if one arm is weak
- Speech: Listen for slurred speech
- Time: Call 911 at the first sign
For more information, visit StrokeCall911.com.