Each year, more than 700,000 Americans suffer strokes, also known as brain attacks. One-quarter of them die—and one-third of those who survive are permanently disabled. As many patients have learned, however, prompt treatment in a state-of-the-art facility like the MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Memorial can make all the difference in the world.
Joseph Pell is a patient who truly appreciates the miracle of modern stroke treatment. Last summer, the 74-year-old Fountain Valley resident knew something was wrong when he stopped at a gas station and couldn’t remember how to use his credit card. “I was also having trouble speaking coherently,” says Joseph. Alarmed, his wife and daughter drove the retired law enforcement officer to the emergency department at Orange Coast Memorial. Within minutes, he was assessed by a team of doctors and nurses. Based on preliminary observation and ultrasound testing, they concluded that Joseph had suffered a stroke. He was promptly admitted to the hospital’s Cardiovascular Center— a decision that proved life-saving for the father of six.
The state-of-the-art facility provides swift, seamless care for patients who come to the emergency room with brain-attack symptoms. It also serves individuals needing a variety of heart procedures including catheterization, angioplasty, pacemaker implantation and other diagnostic or interventional procedures. “In stroke cases, the goal is to develop a treatment plan and initiate appropriate therapy within 90 minutes of a patient’s arrival at the hospital,” says Orange Coast Memorial cardiologist Steven Schiff, M.D., who is Joseph’s doctor.
Using magnetic resonance angiography and other tests, the Cardiovascular Center team confirmed that Joseph had actually suffered two strokes in the previous 24 hours—one major, the other minor. They were also able to pinpoint the extent and source of Joseph’s problem—an 80 percent blockage in his left carotid artery. This blood vessel is one of four major pathways through which blood is transported to the brain. Because plaque had significantly narrowed the artery, blood clots and clumps of platelets were able to cut off circulation to the brain, or travel inside the artery to the brain, causing Joseph’s strokes. “Dr. Schiff explained that I had two treatment options,” says Joseph. The first, called an endarterectomy, involved open surgery to remove the plaque that was narrowing the artery. The second, called carotid angioplasty, entailed the use of a balloon-tipped catheter to widen the narrowed artery. Typically, this minimally invasive procedure is combined with the placement of miniature mesh tubes called stents. After considering his choices, Joseph chose the minimally invasive approach.
But before he could undergo the procedure, there was another hurdle to jump. During Joseph’s assessment, doctors discovered he had a heart-rhythm problem called bradycardia. It had slowed his pulse rate to 38 beats per minute. The only solution was a pacemaker, which was implanted in Joseph’s chest in the beginning of August. A week later, he returned to Orange Coast Memorial for the angioplasty/stent procedure. It took less than an hour and required only mild sedation. Joseph remained in the Cardiovascular Center throughout his treatment and recovery—the ultimate in patient convenience. “Everything went like clockwork,“ says Joseph, who was discharged the next day. “Dr. Schiff is an expert. I never took a pain pill or had any discomfort. The staff at the Cardiovascular Center was wonderful.“
Today, he laughingly recalls how he suggested to his wife that they stop for lunch on their way home from the hospital after his carotid artery procedure. “I was feeling great,” he said. “And I continue to do so.”