Plaza Medical Center
900 Eighth Ave.
Fort Worth 76104
A numb foot offered the first clue. Blurred vision provided a second. But when Carolyn Harris had difficulty speaking, the former North Richland Hills resident knew something was wrong.
“Somewhere along the road, someone must have taught me signs of a stroke,” said Harris, who tried dialing 911 but could barely see the telephone keypad on that November day in 2014. Instead, she contacted her husband on speed dial, and paramedics were on the way.
Diagnosed with high blood pressure only months before, Harris was rushed to Plaza Medical Center in Fort Worth during her stroke episode. She asked to be taken to her more familiar Baylor Scott & White Medical Center-Grapevine, but the facility lacked what Plaza Medical offered: a stroke unit offering comprehensive stroke treatment designation, according to DNV Healthcare, the accrediting agency that awarded the designation.
While the Baylor facility operates a primary stroke center, providing resources to stabilize and treat most stroke patients, Plaza Medical’s comprehensive facility offers what DNV calls the most advanced stroke treatment available.
The difference between primary and comprehensive stroke centers is the level of care that can be provided, with Plaza Medical equipped to handle the condition Harris found herself facing. And she is not alone.
Almost 800,000 strokes occur nationwide every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States suffers a stroke – also known as a “brain attack” – in which either a blockage stops the flow of blood to the brain or a blood vessel in or around the brain bursts.
The former condition, known as an ischemic stroke, occurs when the artery carrying oxygen-rich blood to the brain is blocked. The latter, a hemorrhagic stroke, occurs when an artery in the brain ruptures or leaks blood.
Almost two years after an ischemic stroke sent Harris to the hospital, she knows how to identify stroke conditions and maintains a healthy lifestyle to avoid similar occurrences in the future.
“It’s not just grandma and grandpa getting strokes,” said Dr. Ryan Gianatasio, one of several physicians on the HCA North Texas-Texas Stroke Institute team.
“We’re seeing incidents of strokes in the very young,” said the neurologist, crediting the rise, at least in part, to what he called “the Stroke Belt,” where barbecue and fried foods are favored from Texas through North Carolina.
“It’s just speculation, but we’re seeing 30-year-olds with uncontrolled hypertension and high cholesterol,” Gianatasio said.
Hoping to educate the public about stroke and ways to prevent it, health care providers have named May as National Stroke Awareness Month. They hope to make families familiar with spotting stroke through F.A.S.T., a way to remember sudden signs of stroke. Those signs are: Face drooping, in which one side of the face droops or is numb; Arm weakness, in which one arm is weak or numb; Speech difficulty, in which speech is slurred or the individual is unable to speak; and Time to call 911, recommended if someone shows any of these symptoms, even if they go away.
Fort Worth residents have an edge when it comes to stroke treatment, thanks to one of three designated stroke centers overseen by HCA North Texas. The facility, at Plaza Medical Center along Eighth Avenue just north of Rosedale Street, provides comprehensive care for stroke patients. It is the county’s only such facility. (The other designated stroke centers are The Medical Center of Plano and Medical City, Dallas.)
Gianatasio and about 10 other physicians constitute the stroke team, which focuses on minimally invasive endovascular procedures and imaging techniques for treating stroke and neurovascular disorders.
“Because of our large pool [of physicians], we’re able to cover everything 24 hours a day,” said Gianatasio, who discovered Harris’ clot shortly after she arrived at the hospital.
He surgically removed the clot, restoring blood flow to the brain. Plaza Medical Center is Tarrant County’s only hospital certified to offer the procedure up to 12 hours after stroke is detected.
“As soon as they pulled it out, I could see better. I could see, I could speak,” said Harris, 54, who vowed to follow a healthier lifestyle after the incident.
She now is corporate dietitian for a nursing home firm in San Antonio and points to her Fort Worth experience as opening her eyes.
“The public perception that this only applies to older people is not true,” said Harris, whose dietitian duties involve working with seniors at 31 nursing homes statewide.
“I see the effects and really want to help.”