Surviving strokes with snake venom

HOUSTON 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.

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