Stroke advocate helps family though tough process

Patients getting younger without known reason

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When a family member is taken to the hospital for a stroke, the pace of doctors and nurses is both chaotic and fast. Medical professionals know that if a stroke is in progress, the faster the treatment, the more brains cells are saved.

For family members left in fear and wondering what is happening, arriving at that hospital is overwhelming.

The Medical Center of Aurora has become more proactive in walking them through the process and in explaining what is happening.

Leading that effort is Highlands Ranch resident Suzanne Clausen. With the center seeing stroke patients from all of the Denver metro region, Clausen, a 21-year nurse in the ER, said she understands how tough it is for families who are distraught and confused.

Over the last four years, Clausen has served as the stroke coordinator at the Aurora center, which not only means making sure patients are receiving the exact care they need, but also putting an emphasis on helping guide family members through the treatment plans as they proceed.

Clausen said she enjoys the change from ER, where she treated patients and moved on. Now, she is working directly with patients while they are hospitalized and, in some cases, after they are discharged.

“When I worked in the ER, I never got to follow up and find out what happened to (the patients),” Clausen said. “Now, I get to see them complete the journey.”

That journey starts with a call for help. Clausen said stroke patients are getting younger and younger. While there is no defined reason, she said there are patients suffering from a stroke who are in their 20s and 30s, compared to before when the average age of a stroke victim was over 50.

With younger patients, Clausen said, doctors are concerned that symptoms are being ignored too long. For someone suffering from a stroke, time is of the essence. A drug that can break up the clot causing a stroke can only be administered within 4.5 hours. After that, there is no reversing it. Then, they work to stop it as fast as possible, Clausen said.

Clausen said the symptoms of a stroke can also complicate things. Symptoms can range from something obvious like slurred speech to something as small and unnoticeable as a pain in the arm.

Clausen said the thing to remember about the possibility of having a stroke is to be FAST, which is an acronym.

F: If a patient has facial drooping, seek help. A: Arm weakness is a symptom of a stroke S: Speech is a major indicator someone is having a stroke. Time: The faster treatment is administered, the better chance of saving brain cells.

Clausen said it is vital that the symptoms of a stroke be recognized and 911 is called immediately.  

“Stroke symptoms come on suddenly and family members intervening is vital,” Clausen said. “And, once a stroke starts, so much can be happening at the same time that is overwhelming to family and the patient.”

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