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Monday, September 12, 2016 9:00 PM

Do you know the signs of a stroke? Think FAST.

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Local interior design company owner Kay Garabedian got lucky the evening a large clot lodged in her brain. Lucky her good friend and business partner was there and knew the signs of a stroke. Lucky she got to a hospital right away. And lucky that first hospital sent her to Community Regional Medical Center, which had the expertise and technology to remove the clot from her brain.

On the night of March 14, 2014, when another Fresno hospital saw that Garabedian wasn’t responding to a drug to dissolve the clot, she was rushed to the only place in the Valley with interventional neurologists available and the latest research on stroke care. Dr. Amir Khan was working at the downtown Fresno hospital that night. He used a tiny vacuum inserted through a micro-catheter, snaking through Garabedian’s arteries and into her brain to mechanically remove the clot.

Having an interventional neurologist skilled in using the clot removal technology gives new options to stroke patients who don’t qualify for the clot-busting drug t-PA, also known as tissue plasminogen activator.

Although t-PA is the first choice for stroke treatment, that medicine must be injected within the first three hours after a stroke occurs to be effective and if the clot burden is too heavy, as it was in Garabedian’s case, it might not open the blood vessel. Also t-PA can’t be used on patients with too high blood pressure, those taking blood thinners, anyone who’s had recent surgery or those with a seizure at the onset of the stroke, brain bleeding or internal bleeding.

After a couple weeks in the hospital and extensive rehabilitation, Garabedian said she’s nearly back to her old self. “My typing is a little bit slower,” she said. A year after her stroke, she returned to Community Regional to say thank you to her caregivers and Dr. Khan, and to show them how far she had come.

Caregivers reacted with astonishment and joy to see Garabedian twirling in the hospital halls on tiny heels and arms raised above her head to show off the progress of her recovery. They marveled at her progress – about how unsteady she had once been trying to navigate the physical therapy obstacle courses and how now she was tap dancing in that same room.

Garabedian told her nurses and therapists, “I never thought that I wouldn’t get better, and I think that’s because of how positive you all were and how encouraging you were. If you ever doubt what you do for a living. Don’t. Look at the difference you made.”

Garabedian knows she lucked out that night in March of last year, because her good friend and officemate Suzanne Byrnes immediately saw that Kay’s arms had gone slack while typing an email and that her face was drooping on one side. Byrnes heard Kay slurring as she tried to talk. She knew those were the classic signs of a stroke.

Garabedian wants others to have the same good fortune she did, so she’s reminding all about the acronym F.A.S.T. Remember if you see the following, it’s likely a stroke:

  • F – Face dropping or an uneven smile
  • A – Arms unable to raise
  • S – Speech slurred or inability to repeat phrases
  • T – Time is critical. Get to the hospital immediately!

Garabedian adds that it’s also important to remember to go to the only hospital with expert neurologists and neurosurgeons at the ready 24/7 with life-saving clot removal technology.

Erin Kennedy reported this story. Reach her at MedWatchToday@communitymedical.org.