A few weeks back, Margie Churchill had the special honor of becoming a great-grandmother.
Jace was born in Colorado Springs, where Margie lives, so she got to see him shortly after his birth. “His hair is red,’’ she said, grinning. “It’s really, really pretty.’’
Margie knows after having two sons, three grandchildren and now a great-grandson that there isn’t anything more precious than a new baby, or life itself. She’s spent 61 years with her beloved Norm, who she says is “a really wonderful husband.’’
These days, as all the others, Norm is never far from Margie. Last summer, he was there at her side when she collapsed, almost in slow motion, as she tried to open the door to their car, a task that never before had been troublesome. “I knew right away something was wrong,’’ Norm said.
After six decades of marriage, he knew his Margie. After his son suffered a stroke at the age of 48, Norm schooled himself on knowing the symptoms of stroke, including the acronym FAST – F for facial droop; A for arm weakness; S for speech difficulty; and T for time to call 911.
“I just began training myself so if I ever encountered someone who was having a stroke, I would know what to do,’’ he said. “I didn’t know that the ‘someone’ would be my lovely bride of 61 years. It was a shock.’’
That day, Norm and Margie had gone to Sunrise Kennels to pick up Ethel, a standard poodle, and certified therapy dog, from the groomer. Norm was inside paying the bill when Margie went outside to get in the car. When Norm came out and saw her, he whistled for help and called 911. The first words from his mouth to the dispatcher: “Stroke symptoms.’’ That set in motion a serious of events that in all likelihood saved Margie.
As good fortune would have it, UCHealth’s Mobile Stroke Treatment Unit was just a few minutes away on that Aug. 24, 2017, the first day that UCHealth in Colorado Springs began collecting data as part of a multi-site national research study to determine whether outcomes improve for patients treated within one hour of the onset of stroke symptoms. Kirstin Buchanan, the charge nurse aboard the ambulance that is specially-equipped with a CT scanner to assess people who are suspected of having a stroke, remembers the day clearly.
“We spoke to Norm, who gave us an idea of her past history of TIAs (trans ischemic attack) and her symptoms. We conducted the NIH scale in the parking lot; attached a 12-lead EKG, began some IVs and blood work. We had her in the unit within 10 minutes, and in the CT scanner three minutes later,’’ Buchanan said. Buchanan and her team transmitted the CT to a neurologist in Aurora, who confirmed that Margie had an ischemic stroke. The team began administering tPA, a clot-busting drug that when given within the first 4.5 hours after stroke symptoms begin, may prevent the loss of millions of neurons. The faster tPA is delivered, the better the chance of reducing brain damage and limiting deficits that can occur after a stroke, such as an inability to recognize people, immobility, loss of vision, difficulty with speech, and other symptoms.
“In a manner of speaking, it brings the emergency room to the patient,’’ Norm said. “She got care within 42 minutes. That’s extremely fast, and when I hit the big lottery, I will buy four or five of these. I just hope that the data that is collected does some good for society. Because there are a lot of stroke victims out there who don’t get the care they need in a timely manner. We were very, very fortunate.’’
The Mobile Stroke Treatment Unit is in Colorado Springs two weeks a month, and in Aurora, Colorado, serving patients near the UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital, two weeks a month. “There’s a national initiative to get people treated within 60 minutes, from the time they get to the door of the emergency department. With the innovation of a mobile stroke unit, our goal is to provide treatment within 60 minutes of stroke symptom onset,’’ said Brandi Schimpf, mobile stroke program and nurse manager.
Nationally, fewer than 2 percent of people having an ischemic stroke are treated within the first hour of the onset of symptoms, Schimpf said. Delays in calling 911, travel time to the hospital, etc., often keep patients from receiving tPA until two, three and four hours after the onset of symptoms. As part of the study, UCHealth’s Mobile Stroke Treatment team follows up with patients every couple of months to assess their progress. “We follow these patients for a year,’’ Buchanan said. “We meet up with these patients every couple of months. We follow up, we meet with them and talk with them and it is amazing to see the progress that Margie has made. The day she had her stroke, I was like, ‘wow. We don’t know how this is going to go.’ The quick treatment, and the fast actions of everybody, that’s why she is where she is today.’’
After four months in the hospital and an inpatient rehabilitation facility, Margie has gone to physical, occupational, and speech therapy at least twice a week. Her speech has vastly improved, as has her ability to walk and move about.
“She is one of the hardest working ladies that I’ve seen,’’ Norm said. “I see her walking sideways on the (parallel) bars (at UCHealth Rehabilitation – Scarborough), and with the help of Kristen Zelenbaba, a physical therapist at Memorial Hospital for 21 years, she is working to progress from a walker to a cane.’’
Margie said she is grateful to her family, for all of the attention and love that they have shown her and for the care she received from stroke experts and therapists. If you ask Norm how Margie is doing 10 months after the stroke, he says the same thing he has said about her for more than 60 years.