Stroke victim learns importance of rapid response



NEWBURYPORT — It's said that "time is tissue" in the business of diagnosing and treating strokes, and that appears to be the case in the good-outcome story of Traci Perkins.

Perkins, 46, woke up some months ago unable to speak clearly or brush her teeth with any coordination.

The Seabrook resident didn't know what was happening, so she rushed to the house of her friend and neighbor, Marcie Dow. It was a good move.

"I work on the switchboard at the Anna Jaques Hospital and I've seen information about what to look for if you suspect a stroke," Dow said. "I am used to taking emergency calls and I know that speed is important. When I saw Traci and noticed her smile was lopsided, I thought we had to get to the hospital."

This is Stroke Awareness Month, and the women reunited for an interview with The Daily News with the hope that those learning about their story might benefit.

They say that if you think a stroke could be occurring, it should be treated like it is. And rapidity of response is important.

Medical authorities say a stroke occurs when poor blood flow to the brain results in cell death. 

Signs and symptoms of a stroke may include an inability to move or feel on one side of the body, problems understanding or speaking, feeling like the world is spinning, or loss of vision on one side.

Medical professionals have a certain acronymn to raise awareness: FAST. 

It reminds people that these elements should be considered if suspecting a stroke: face (a twisted smile); arm (check if one arm is weak); speech (listen for slurred speech); and time (call 911 quickly if a stroke is suspected).

Perkins, who recalls she had severe headaches before her episode, said she is thankful she had Dow as a friend and that medical professionals reacted quickly.

"I didn't think I was having a stroke. I didn't want to have a stroke because I have five kids at home and there is always something to do. I couldn't be away," said Perkins, an assistant cook at a New Hampshire high school. 

"There is no history in my family and I've never been to a hospital other than to have my children," she added. "I'm strong-willed and at first I didn't want to go to the emergency. But Marcie insisted."

Dow said she didn't tell Perkins what she suspected at the time. 

"I didn't tell her that I thought she was having a stroke because I felt it might upset her," she said. "It might make things worse. But we've learned that if you think someone is having a stroke, you should act as if it is actually happening."

Perkins received attention on an emergency basis at Anna Jaques and doctors quickly sent key data to its institutional partner, Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston.

Specialists there felt she was showing symptoms of a stroke. She was stabilized and rushed to the Boston facility, which is a teaching hospital affiliated with Harvard Medical School.

Doron Korinow, a doctor in the emergency medicine department at Anna Jaques, said it was determined that Perkins was a candidate for a medication known as TPA.

TPA stands for tissue plasminogen activator, which is a protein involved in the breakdown of blood clots.

"She is part of a subset of patients that will be aided by TPA," Korinow said. "It was administered and she began feeling better. She reacted as was hoped.

"In looking back, this patient was rushed to the hospital, a diagnosis was validated quickly, and with medication there was a good outcome."

Diane Wigmore, senior director of emergency services at Anna Jaques and stroke coordinator, said Dow's rapid response was significant.

"We are fortunate that Marcie knew what to do and acted quickly," Wigmore said. "Also, that we had a system in place so we could act effectively. We hope everyone knows that reacting quickly to the belief that a stroke is occurring can make a big difference."

The episode took place in August 2015.

For months, Perkins has been back to work at the school and in the home as a busy mom — her children are 12, 14, 16, 18 and 24.

"I am so glad that Tracie insisted that I get into the car for the trip to the hospital," Perkins said, "and that the team at Anna Jaques knew what to do."

Dyke Hendrickson covers Newburyport. He can be reached at 978-961-3149 or at dhendrickson@newburyportnews.com.