Surviving strokes with snake venom

May 27, 2008 5:58:24 PM PDT
When it comes to stroke treatment, the earlier the better. But doctors at Methodist Hospital are working to stretch the window of opportunity of treatment to help more patients. And they're doing it with the help of an exotic poisonous snake.

Bryan Norsworthy never dreamed he'd become a stroke victim. He didn't have high blood pressure, diabetes or any other risk factors. But things changed during a phone conversation last February with his mother.

"She and I were talking and the conversation was going fine and then she noticed that my speech got slurred," said Bryan.

While Bryan didn't suspect anything, his quick-thinking mother knew something was wrong. But she lived in east Texas. So she got on the phone and called for help.

"I went to the door and I saw my sister and my brother-in-law and I thought, 'Man, something's happened to somebody'," said Bryan. "And I didn't know it was me."

Bryan ended up at Methodist hospital. But he arrived beyond the three-hour time window to receive TPA, the standard stroke treatment. So doctors asked him to try something new.

"A drug that is an anti-coagulant and a clot-dissolving drug," said Dr. Paul Chiu with the Methodist Department of Neurology.

A drug made from venom, the poison of Malayan pit vipers.

"So scientists have discovered that this is a drug that can dissolve blood clots and conceivably reduce the damage caused by a stroke," said Dr. Chiu.

And 'ancrod' from vipers' venom might extend the three-hour treatment window for stroke patients like Bryan.

"Whether this drug when administered within six hours of onset of symptoms leads to a better neurologic outcome," said Dr. Chiu.

It worked for Bryan, who has no remaining disability from his stroke.

"Oh, I feel great!" said Bryan. "I feel wonderful. I'm working. I'm doing everything that I was doing before. I'm actually taking better care of myself."

Stroke is the third leading cause of death among African-Americans. But Dr. Chiu says it's actually one of the more treatable catastrophic illnesses. Some of the signs of a stroke include sudden numbness of the face, arm or leg, sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding, dizziness and severe headaches.

And remember, every second counts.