14 minutes that saved a life: How paramedics' quick thinking during stroke made all the difference
Neurological wisdom says "time is brain" when it comes to a stroke.
The longer a person experiencing a stroke is unable to receive treatment, the worse the results for the brain and body typically will be.
For 34-year-old Dan Keller, whose call for help with strokelike symptoms went to the Lisle-Woodridge Fire Protection District, the time was 14 minutes.
That's how long it took for a team of five firefighter/paramedics to arrive at Keller's home, determine he was indeed suffering a stroke, assess the severity and transport him by ambulance to Edward Hospital in Naperville, said James Weaver, emergency medical services coordinator for the fire district.
The quick work of the responding team earned James Loehman, Matt Schebo, Mike Sharp, Kevin Sievert and Scott Wezalis the 2018 Run of the Year Award from Edward Hospital.
"The reason for the award was the early recognition, the early treatment and the collaboration between prehospital and hospital treatment that led to the patient outcome," Weaver said. "The patient walked out with no deficits."
Strokes can be debilitating and can cause a range of consequences including loss of memory, thinking abilities or muscle movement; difficulty talking, swallowing or controlling emotions; pain, numbness or strange sensations in various parts of the body; and decreases in daily functioning and self-care.
For that not to happen in the case of Keller, who is on the young side to experience a stroke, Weaver said, was a feat worth recognizing. Dr. Daryl Wilson, medical director of emergency medical services at Edward Hospital, agrees.
"With stroke care, it's all time-sensitive, so (the paramedics') ability to recognize this patient, a really young individual having a stroke ... led to outcomes that were amazing for this young man," Wilson said. "He has really no neurological deficits. That's an amazing thing, and it all starts with that initial link in the chain, which is our prehospital providers."
A transition that was almost "seamless" between care provided in Keller's home, the ambulance and the hospital allowed his treatment to be successful, Weaver said.
Paramedics first used a National Institutes of Health scale for assessing strokes by looking for symptoms that Wilson said include partial paralysis in the arms, legs or face and difficulty speaking or understanding communication.
Once they noticed signs that a stroke was at play and noted its severity, they began entering Keller's information into a computerized system that connects with Edward Hospital. Using details provided by the paramedics, Wilson said the hospital assembled a team of stroke care experts including a neurologist and gathered background on Keller's medical history, doctor visits and medications.
In the ambulance, paramedics prepared the patient by starting an IV, drawing blood and providing advanced life support.
Achieving all of that in 14 minutes proves Lisle-Woodridge personnel are "able to act to the level of their training without hesitation," Chief Keith Krestan said.
All five winners of the Run of the Year Award -- Loehman, Schebo, Sharp, Sievert and Wezalis -- deserve the honor equally, Weaver said.
"They have great teamwork," he said
The award from the hospital validates the effort personnel put into being prepared.
"They did a fantastic job that citizens of district should be absolutely proud of and have come to expect," Krestan said.
'They took one look at me, and I think they knew'
If there's anyone excited for a group of Lisle-Woodridge Fire Protection District paramedics to receive the Edward Hospital Run of the Year Award, it's Woodridge's Dan Keller.
Keller is the now 35-year-old who was having a stroke one night after going to dinner and who is getting along just fine neurologically a year later despite the major health event.
Keller is the patient paramedics transported to the hospital in 14 minutes, giving him every chance to receive the quick treatment he needed for the unexpected clot that interrupted blood flow to his brain.
Keller is a partner in a Northwest Indiana-based robotics company with children ages 2 and 4. And he is grateful.
"If anybody deserves an award, it's those guys," Keller said about the paramedic team of James Loehman, Matt Schebo, Mike Sharp, Kevin Sievert and Scott Wezalis who responded to his home one evening in late December 2017. "I owe a lot of my quick recovery to those guys."
What later became an award-winning ambulance run started with Keller feeling funny while watching the news after dinner out with his wife. His strange sensations left him unable to talk, and his wife Kate was upstairs. But he was able to signal to her that something was wrong.
"I couldn't talk. I couldn't speak. My whole face had drooped, had dropped," Keller said. "So she just immediately called the paramedics."
The family was surprised how quickly a crew arrived -- seemingly before Kate even had time to unlock the front door, turn on a porch light and let out the dog.
"They took one look at me, and I think they knew what was going on," Keller said. "It was just a little up in the air because I'm so young."
Although strokes are rare in people Keller's age (34 at the time), paramedics saw from his symptoms of left-side paralysis, impaired speech and a drooping face that a stroke was occurring. As they prepared Keller for a speedy ride to Edward's emergency department in Naperville, they began relaying what information they had about his condition to the hospital in praiseworthy communication that contributed to their receipt of the Run of the Year Award, hospital officials said.
The paramedics were so supportive and friendly, yet efficient, that Keller described the entire experience as just like having a concerned friend rush him to the hospital.
Once at the hospital, Dr. Daryl Wilson, medical director of emergency medical services, said the emergency team gave Keller a medication abbreviated as TPA, which helps break up clots.
Keller has learned since the stroke that he has a blood disorder referred to as "sticky blood," which makes him likely to suffer clots. He wasn't aware of the condition when his first damaging clot set in, but he's since learned how dangerous clots can be.
"The longer the clot sits there, the worse it is," he said.
The TPA worked efficiently to break up the clot that was causing Keller's paralysis and speaking issues. Within a half-hour, he said he was back to normal, feeling fine and testing neurologically unaffected.
After completing their paperwork, two of the paramedics stopped back at Keller's bedside to check in.
Keller was amazed and said the action showed the responders' character. The paramedics were amazed and said they couldn't believe Keller's good condition.
"They walked in and said, 'You can't be the same guy,' " Keller said. "I got to shake their hands and tell them, 'Thank you' for what they did and getting me there so fast."