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When treating a stroke, time matters; ‘Every minute you wait, you have millions of neurons potentially dying’

MILWAUKEE -- Minutes matter when it comes to treating a stroke. The problem is, oftentimes, people do not know they are having one. The symptoms can be subtle and they are often misleading.

For Michael Campbell and his girlfriend Vaneasha Youngblood, it was just another routine trip to the store after a busy day of work. There was nothing out of the ordinary -- until they stopped for gas.

"When Michael pulled up to the pump, he went to get out and that's when he stumbled," Youngblood said.

The couple went home, but things started to get worse -- and Youngblood could tell something was not right.

"And I see that he's just twirling his right arm," Youngblood said. "I'm like, 'uh, what's my name?'"

Campbell could not answer.

Vaneasha Youngblood

"That's when I got out my phone and went to call 911 and continued to watch him," Youngblood said.

The only thing the 55-year-old remembers is opening his eyes to strangers.

"I woke up in the emergency room, and I woke up and I'm like 'why are all these people standing around me?'" Campbell said.

What the doctor told Campbell, he said he still cannot believe.

Michael Campbell

"I was told I had a stroke," Campbell said. "I was in disbelief. I was like, 'are you kidding me? I had a stroke?'"

Campbell feared the worst. The prognosis may not have been good, but within 24 hours, Campbell started showing signs of improvement. A big reason for the improvement -- Youngblood acted fast. In fact, BE FAST is an easy way to remember the signs of a stroke:

  • Balance: Sudden loss of coordination or balance.
  • Eyes: Sudden change in vision.
  • Face drooping.
  • Arm weakness.
  • Speech difficulty.
  • Terrible headache,  time to call 911.

Doctors say if Youngblood had not called 911 right away, things may have been much worse.

"Every minute you wait, you have millions of neurons potentially dying," said Dr. John Lynch, a neurointerventionalist at Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Dr. Lynch performed the procedure to remove Campbell's blood clot. It is something that at one time could not be done easily -- if at all.

"Before we could take the clots out, you know, they'd either be in a nursing home or dead in three months. The vast majority of them," Dr. Lynch said.

But now, a cutting-edge procedure called a thrombectomy is saving lives and getting people back to normal quickly.

"To open up one of these blood vessels could take four, six hours even, and now we can do it in minutes," Dr. Lynch said.

Here's how it works. Doctors go through a very small hole in the leg -- all the way up into the head. They remove the clot, do whatever else they need to do and come back out with just a little tiny hole in the leg.

All of this gets patients like Campbell back in the flow. He is back to work, exercising and sees a therapist, but the best part, he said, is his new lease on life.

"The entire ordeal to me is a blessing from God," Campbell said.

Campbell has made remarkable progress, but he said he has some memory loss.

Campbell's father had a stroke when he was 48 years old, so there is family history. Doctors encourage everyone to talk with their families to find out if they are at higher risk.