According to The American Stroke Association, stroke is the No. 5 cause of death in the United States, taking the lives of nearly 130,000 people a year. Even so, the signs of stroke often go unrecognized. Los Angeles County Sheriff Sergeant, 51-year-old Teresa Garrett, experienced this first hand.

Months ago, Teresa awoke feeling lethargic, but pushed forward. “I felt like the world around me was moving slowly,” says Teresa. She began her work shift that morning doing the best she could, even though she was incoherent. “I would write my name and it just looked like a scribble.”

Teresa’s co-worker, Eric, also noticed strange behavior that morning. “Her speech was slurred and she was spilling her coffee as she poured it,” says Eric.

While her behavior was strange, it didn’t exactly signal a stroke.

“Teresa is not an obvious stroke patient,” says Viktor Szeder, M.D., Ph.D., NeuroInterventionalist, MemorialCare Neuroscience Institute, Long Beach Medical Center. “Typical stroke patients are usually much older than her and they exhibit more tell-tale signs, such as facial drooping and loss of limb control.”

Worried by her symptoms, Teresa’s colleague decided to call 911. She was taken to her local hospital before her care team decided to transport her to Long Beach Medical Center. As one of the first Joint Commission Certified Comprehensive Stroke Centers in LA County, Long Beach Medical Center’s highly trained stroke team is equipped to treat the most complex stroke cases focusing on fast response times and positive outcomes. The Comprehensive Stroke Center includes advanced imaging capabilities and 24/7 availability of specialized treatments, including minimally invasive procedures on brain vessels.

On Teresa’s arrival, Dr. Szeder and his team sprang into action. First, the team conducted a CT scan of her brain to check for abnormalities. A blood clot was found on the left side of her brain, in the middle cerebral artery.

“The clot was blocking blood flow to the entire left hemisphere of the brain,” says Dr. Szeder. “Lack of blood flow to the brain will cause stroke, which could progress very quickly. Teresa, if not helped by removing the clot from her brain vessel, was at risk of her stroke getting larger by every minute. She could have worsen to losing strength of the right side of her body, losing her speech, becoming wheel-chair bound with severe disability and dependency, or even die.”

To assess the severity of the stroke caused by the clot and the treatment options, the team performed a CT-perfusion scan to identify what areas of the brain they could save. “Time is important in stroke cases,” says Dr. Szeder. “Every minute, patients lose two million brain neurons”.

To remove the clot, Dr. Szeder used a stent retriever, new technology, which his colleagues and members of the Interventional Neuroradiology team Gary Duckwiler, M.D.; Reza Jahan, M.D.; Satoshi Tateshima, M.D.; and May Nour, M.D. helped to develop and test in a clinical trial.

Together, they make up an expert Interventional Neuroradiology team who specializes in state-of-the-art interventional and minimally invasive neurological procedures.

With this technique, a catheter was inserted through the patient’s groin and then the stent retriever was advanced all the way to the blood clot in the patient’s brain. The stent is able to grab the clot, remove it from the brain vessel and restore the blood flow to the brain.

Teresa required a three day stay in the hospital, before returning home. “Teresa recovered tremendously,” says Dr. Szeder. “She recovered much faster than an average stroke case.”

Once home, Teresa returned to the activities of her daily life with almost full function of her limbs and speech.

Both Teresa and Eric have noticed an improvement in her daily behaviors. “She is cognizant again. She has to focus on one thing at a time, but she’s more aware,” says Eric. “She’s doing much better now.”

Teresa hopes her case can spread stroke awareness. “I just want more people to know the signs of a stroke,” says Teresa. “If more people are aware, more lives can be saved.”

If you or a loved one is exhibiting signs of a stroke, don’t hesitate to call 911. The MemorialCare Neuroscience Institute at Long Beach Medical Center encourages everyone to learn the signs of stroke with a quick and easy acronym—B.E. F.A.S.T.:

  • B: Balance – sudden loss of balance and coordination
  • E: Eyes – sudden trouble seeing or blurred vision
  • F: Face drooping – face drooping on one side or numbness
  • A: Arm or leg weakness – numbness especially on one side of the body
  • S: Speech difficulty – sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech
  • T: Time – stroke is a medical emergency, call 911 immediately and note the time of the first symptom