New stroke treatment in Montgomery County saving lives by getting patients help faster

THE WOODLANDS, Texas (KTRK) -- Having a stroke is one of the scariest health emergencies you or a loved one could ever face, but if you live in The Woodlands or Montgomery County, your chances of survival are better than ever, thanks to a new way of getting help faster.

Amanda Teal credits the response of both Montgomery County Emergency Medical System and Houston Methodist The Woodlands Hospital with saving her grandmother's life.

"It was pretty terrifying... I knew right then she had had a stroke," Teal said.

Teal will never forget the day she came home and found her grandmother, Renate, unable to speak and unable to move. After calling 911, paramedics rushed Renate to Houston Methodist The Woodlands Hospital.

"He said, 'We're taking her to Methodist. They're waiting on her, she's a stroke victim, and we need to get there fast,'" Renate recounted.

Fast is always key when it comes to treating stroke victims, as well as a relatively new procedure called a thrombectomy, where a doctor pulls out the clot through a blood vessel. Dr. Sabih Effendi at Methodist The Woodlands is one of only about 500 surgeons in the country who perform the revolutionary surgery.

"Somewhere around 40 to 50 percent of people who get this procedure completely reverse their symptoms," Dr. Effendi said

Thrombectomy offers a dramatically better outcome than the 10 percent recovery rate offered by other treatment options, and the improvement is almost immediate, with about 50 percent of patients improving within an hour, according to Dr. Effendi.

But it's not just the surgery that can be life-saving. The treatment and preparation done on the way to the hospital can mean the difference between life and death.

"Their care really started from the moment they called 911," Montgomery County EMS Director Dr. Robert Dickson explained to us.

RELATED: Stroke prevention key, especially in 'Stroke Belt' of Houston

Dr. Dickson played a major role in developing new stroke treatment protocol for Montgomery County with Dr. Effendi. Under new guidelines, all county EMS paramedics are trained to evaluate the stroke using a ranking system, take the patient immediately to the right hospital equipped to treat these kinds of strokes (in this case, Houston Methodist The Woodlands Hospital), alert the doctors and staff at the hospital, and begin treatment on the way.

In Montgomery County, the streamlined system allows stroke patients taken by ambulance to bypass the ER and go straight to the surgeon.

"We start getting the table ready, we start getting CT scans ready, so when the patient comes, they just flow through (and) get everything they need," Dr. Effendi said.

The new protocol has been so effective that Methodist and Montgomery County have been tapped to produce a training video to bring other agencies in Texas up to speed.

"We've seen great outcomes, it's amazing," Dr. Effendi said.

But what's amazing to Teal is simply seeing the woman who raised her back on her feet.

"She's a pretty incredible woman," Teal said.

If you suspect you or someone you know is having a stroke, call 911 immediately. Do not wait. The National Stroke Association recommends using the acronym "FAST" to help identify the warning signs:

(F) FACE: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

(A) ARMS: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

(S) SPEECH: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is the speech slurred or strange?

(T) TIME: If you observe any of these signs, call 911 immediately

MORE: Stroke: How to spot the warning signs, symptoms
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