Saint Francis seeking primary stroke center certification

Grand Island, Neb. — Did you know that stroke is the fourth-leading cause of death and the leading cause of serious long-term disability in America?

Every 40 seconds, someone in America has a stroke. There are approximately 5.4 million Americans living with a disability due to stroke-related motor, sensory and cognitive impairments.

Because of the widespread impact of stroke, Dr. Colin Sanner, who is a neurologist with the Grand Island Specialty Clinic, said Saint Francis Medical Center is working toward achieving primary stroke center certification.

“Essentially, it would mean that we would be a center for outside hospitals to transfer their stroke patients to,” Sanner said. “It would also signify that we meet the gold standard of care for stroke patients — from the very moment they arrive up until their discharge after rehab.”

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel bringing blood and oxygen to the brain gets blocked or ruptures and brain cells don’t get the flow of blood that they need. When the cells don’t receive the oxygen they need, they cannot function and die within minutes.

In one minute of not receiving oxygen, two million nerve cells and 14 billion synapses can die. When those cells die, the part of the body they control can’t function, either, and these effects are often permanent because dead brain cells can’t be replaced.

Sanner said he can’t emphasize enough that people should take symptoms of a stroke seriously. Sanner is a proponent of a stroke diagnosis model used by the American Stroke Association, which is based on five words:

  1. Reach
  2. See
  3. Feel
  4. Walk
  5. Talk

“If someone has abrupt, sudden onset of trouble with any of these — reach, see, feel, walk or talk — that could be stroke,” Sanner said. “It could be something else, but I would prefer 10 people in the Emergency Department who don’t have strokes, rather than missing one stroke that did happen.”

What are the warning signs of stroke?

  • Sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body.
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
  • Sudden severe headaches with no known cause.

“It’s important that everyone learns to recognize the sign of a stroke,” said Ed Nickel, Stroke/Trauma manager at Saint Francis Medical Center. “Because in the case of stroke, time lost is brain lost.”

What can you do if you or a loved one experiences stroke symptoms? Get to the Emergency Department — fast! Call 911 and don’t wait, Nickel said. There is medication available if the stroke is diagnosed early, which can help reduce the amount of disability or even death.

“The sooner people can get to the Emergency Department, the better the results they will get from the medicines we give, Sanner said. “So, in theory, if we could give medicines to break up clots right at the moment the stroke happened, it would be as if the stroke never happened.

“With the time that passes, the permanent deficit increases. Right now, we’re looking at about a 4 1/2-hour window for people to get in a get that clot-busting medicine.”

In conjunction with May being National Stroke Awareness Month, the National Stroke Association’s would like to remind everyone of its stroke prevention guidelines:

  • Know your blood pressure. If it’s high, work with your doctor to lower it.
  • Find out if you have atrial fibrillation. If you do, work with your doctor to manage it.
  • If you smoke, stop.
  • If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation.
  • Know your cholesterol number. If it’s high, work with your doctor to control it.
  • If you are diabetic, follow your doctor’s advice carefully to get your blood sugar level under control.
  • Include exercise in your daily routine.
  • Work toward a lower-sodium (salt), lower-fat diet.
  • Ask your doctor if you have circulation (blood flow) problems, which increase your stroke risk. If so, work with your doctor to control them.

While maintaining a healthy diet, exercising, controlling blood pressure and diabetes are important, Sanner said quitting smoking is the No. 1 thing people can do to prevent stroke.

“Smoking causes the blood to become thicker so it’s easier for the platelettes to form clots inside the arteries,” Sanner said. “It actually damages the lining to the arteries, so they are more prone for the platelettes to start sticking there and causing clots.”

Saint Francis hosting stroke information fair

Saint Francis Medical Center will be hosting a stroke awareness event from 6-7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 22, in Conference Room 2/3. The public is invited to learn about stroke risk factors and services to support survivors of stroke and their families. Dr. Colin Sanner, neurologist with the Grand Island Specialty Clinic, will be joined at the information fair by Dr. Josh Anderson, neurosurgeon with the Grand Island Specialty Clinic, and Dr. Shane Burr, physiatrist with the Pain and Physical Medicine Clinic.

Other Saint Francis departments in attendance will be representatives from Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit and Central Nebraska Home Care.

There will be information on smoking cessation, a stroke support group and financial information and resources, as well as experts on diabetes education, exercise and blood-pressure screenings.

Participating community agencies include Balance and Mobility Center, Frontier Home Medical, Vocational Rehab, Wholeness Healing Center, Family Resource Center, Hall County Tobacco Coalition, Hangar Orthopedic Group and Goodwill Industries.

About Saint Francis Medical Center

Saint Francis Medical Center is a nonprofit faith-based hospital serving Central Nebraska with state-of-the-art healthcare services. A new patient tower was completed in 2007 with 159 acute-care patient rooms, including the Family Birthing Center, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Intensive Care Unit and a 10-bed inpatient rehabilitation unit. Saint Francis also operates a Cancer Treatment Center in Grand Island and Hastings, a Skilled Care Unit and an alcohol and drug treatment center.

About Catholic Health Initiatives

Saint Francis Medical Center is part of Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI), a national nonprofit health organization with headquarters in Englewood, Colo. The faith-based system operates in 19 states and includes 73 hospitals; 40 long-term care, assisted- and residential-living facilities; two community health-services organizations; two accredited nursing colleges; and home health agencies. In fiscal year 2011, CHI provided more than $612 million in charity care and community benefit, including services for the poor, free clinics, education and research. With annual operating revenues of approximately $9.6 billion, CHI is the nation's third-largest Catholic health care system.