New procedure a lifesaver for many stroke victims

By  | 

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Speech, movement, memory: those are all things patients can lose after having a stroke. There's a procedure that can reverse that reality, but only if people act quickly.

"I tried waking up to get out of bed and my legs would not move," said Nancy Pearl.

What sounds like a bad dream was a reality for the Grand Isle woman last fall.

"I had a stroke. I didn't really know what was going on," Pearl said.

Pearl was dozing off to a television show when she says she lost feeling in her legs and couldn't speak.

"It wasn't normal talking, it was a holler and screeching to get attention," she said.

Luckily, the 72-year-old says her husband, Bob, heard her and knew something was wrong. That's when he and his son called rescue crews who then rushed her to the UVM Medical Center.

"They came real fast, and that's about all I remember until I woke up after the surgery," Pearl said.

"Other than that puncture, a patient wouldn't know it that anything had been done because it was done from the inside of the arteries using X-rays," said Dr. Guillermo Linares, a neurologist at the hospital who specializes in handling blood flow problems to the brain. "The X-ray machines allow us to guide small wires and small catheters into part of the brain that's having trouble."

With Pearl's permission, Dr. Linares shared the X-rays to show what was wrong. It's not clear what led to Pearl's sudden stroke, but he says usually it's an abnormal heartbeat causing clots that sometimes get ejected into the brain.

"That clot will travel up until it's too big to make its way to any other artery," he said.

In a procedure known as mechanical thrombectomy, doctors can guide a hair-thin wire through a major artery in the leg, up to the brain and puncture through the clot to eventually suck it out of the body.

"You retrieve it into a plastic tube and then remove it from the body. Now the blood is flowing in a perfect way and all the arteries are good," Linares said.

And in a matter of hours, patients can go from losing major faculties to becoming completely restored, just like Pearl.

"I could talk, I could move my legs," she said.

"She responded extraordinarily well. She started moving and talking. She came back to herself and she walked out of the hospital and went straight home a couple of days after the procedure," Linares said.

But he says timing is everything and most people aren't as lucky as Pearl.

"Sometimes the stars aligned in the right way and I think she did really well," Linares said.

When it works out, he says there's no better feeling.

"It's very empowering to know you do something and in a little bit of time that movement comes back, or that ability to speak," he said. "It's very rewarding."