September 06, 2019

By Zach Sparks

When Susan Edwards awoke around 5:00am one day last January, she experienced everyone’s nightmare.

“I couldn’t move the right side of my body,” said Edwards, a 61-year-old Severna Park resident. “I couldn’t speak.”

Edwards was taken to University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center (UM BWMC), where vascular neurologist and stroke program medical director Dr. Christopher Stack diagnosed her with a stroke. Facing long-term complications, Edwards was given a choice to take a clot-busting drug that must be administered within 4.5 hours of the patient last being normal.

Edwards was last known to be normal almost 12 hours prior to taking the medication, but a new trial allowed UM BWMC to treat patients waking up with stroke symptoms to get lifesaving and disability sparing medication.

“They asked me, ‘Do you have any cuts?’ Because they could start bleeding or I could have a brain bleed, which would put me in a coma,” Edwards said.

The ensuing care by UM BWMC was just one of many cases that led the hospital to recently earn the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association’s Get With The Guidelines Target: Stroke Honor Roll Elite Plus Gold Plus Quality Achievement Award. The honor highlighted a two-year period of UM BWMC’s high-level treatment provided to stroke patients, based on the latest scientific evidence.

In this particular case, Stack used his clinical experience and knowledge to assess Edwards’ condition, and he utilized the new standards at UM BWMC to suggest the clot-busting drug.

“Most hospitals will do a standard MRI,” Stack said. “I was able to look at pictures of the MRI to see when the stroke occurred and see if the brain tissue was dead or if [damage from the stroke] was reversible.”

The damage from Edwards’ stroke, he decided, was reversible. With the consent of Edwards, he administered the clot-busting drug.

“I didn’t want to live without being able to speak or move,” Edwards said. “And it worked. I had several MRIs done, and Dr. Stack showed me the clot before and the area after it was gone, and I thought it was totally amazing.”

For the procedure’s success, Stack lauded the “groundbreaking literature” and the UM BWMC team: intensive care doctor Jason Heavner, chair of emergency medicine Chirag Chaudhari, and nurse stroke coordinator Theresa Maloney.

“If she would have went anywhere else than John Hopkins, she would have faced a lifelong disability,” Stack said of Edwards.

Although the stroke and ensuing recovery lasted just a few days, Edwards said it felt like a lifetime.

“I was scared to death,” she said. “When it was done, it was like this big weight was lifted off my shoulders.”

That case and many other cases over the last two years were the work of emergency medical services personnel, radiologists, nurses, therapists and other UM BWMC staff who have consistently demonstrated high-level care, Stack said.

For Edwards, that level of care saved her life.

“I thank everyone at the hospital,” Edwards said. “And Dr. Stack, from the time I came until the time I left, he kept coming to check on me and even carry conversations about my life.”


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