Dec. 21, 2016 | Vivian and Hubert Smith are known to their neighbors as the love birds.
Married for 66 years, the Jacksonville couple enjoy each other’s company and spend their days conversing, reading and participating in group activities with their friends at their apartment complex.
But the morning of Halloween 2016 proved to be a scary one for Hubert Smith. He can hardly talk about it without weeping. That’s the day he could have lost his wife.
“She came in and sat down as usual,” Mr. Smith said. “I asked if she’d like some coffee. She didn’t respond.”
That’s when he noticed the right side of her face was drooping and her eyes weren’t focusing. He rushed over to grab their neighbor, Joyce Slabaugh, who has nursing experience and had previously taken care of him during an illness.
“I was taking care of another client when Hubert came banging on the door,” Slabaugh said. “He had been running. He doesn’t run. So I knew something bad was happening.”
When Slabaugh saw Vivian Smith, she knew immediately she was probably having a stroke. Hubert Smith was about to grab his vehicle to drive her to an emergency room. But Slabaugh insisted they call 911 instead.
“I knew time was of the essence,” Slabaugh said.
And she was right. Benedict Tan, M.D., an assistant professor in the UAMS College of Medicine Department of Neurology, says the quick reaction from Smith, Slabaugh and EMS made the best case scenario.
“She arrived in a very timely matter,” Tan said. “The minute they made the call, a stroke alert was activated on the hospital site. As soon as she arrived, Dr. Freeze expedited the preparation of tPA.”
The treatment known as tPA or, tissue plasminogen activator, is used to dissolve the clot and improve blood flow in the part of the brain being deprived of blood. Tan says it takes about 10 minutes to prepare.
Because the Emergency Department was notified immediately through the 911 call, Rachael Ramsey-Freeze, M.D, associate professor in the UAMS College of Medicine’s Department of Emergency Medicine, was able to coordinate the flow through the Emergency Department to more quickly give the tPA.
Mehmet Akdol, M.D., an interventional neuroradiologist and assistant professor in the UAMS College of Medicine’s Department of Radiology, removed the clot from Smith’s brain after she received tPA.
“If there was any delay in any of these links, the stroke could have ended up much worse,” Tan said.
He illustrated the worst-case scenario with an image of Smith’s brain showing a large portion colored green.
“The green area shows the part of her brain that would have been affected if tPA and intervention weren’t done promptly,” Tan said. “If she had ended up with a stroke this size, she would have likely been paralyzed on her right side and lost the ability to speak and understand for the rest of her life.”
Instead, Smith was able to go home three days later without the need of rehabilitation or physical or occupational therapy.
“Because of newer interventions and approach, we’re able to save so many more people,” Akdol said. “We hope that by educating the public about stroke symptoms we will increase the number of people who call 911 and go to the ER first. The real miracle here is your family who knew to get you here quickly. That’s exactly what they needed to do.”
Vivan Smith remembers very little about the moments leading up to her stroke. She says she became fully aware around 1 p.m. when she looked at a clock showing the time.
When she met her doctors again in mid-November she continued to express her gratitude to the team that helped saved her life.
“I appreciate all of you for taking time out of your lives for training and giving up so much to study this field,” she said. “It’s truly wonderful to have people like you.”
In addition to being known as the lovebirds, some of the Smiths’ neighbors now call her “our miracle.”
“We hope to be together another 66 years,” Hubert Smith said.