Theodore Them

Dr. Theodore Them speaks about experiencing a stroke in March.

SAYRE — May is National Stroke Awareness Month and Guthrie is using this time to encourage people to learn the signs and symptoms of a stroke.

“A stroke is anything that can block off blood flow that’s going to the brain,” Dr. Kim Rickert, Medical Director at Guthrie Robert Packer Hospital Stroke Center, said. “The brain is very dependent on blood flow. So if the brain is not getting its blood flow, therefore it’s not getting its oxygen, then part of the brain starts to die.

Symptoms of a stroke include face drooping, arm weakness, slurred speech and numbness.

The American Stroke Association uses the acronym F.A.S.T to educate people on how to spot a stroke. The “F” stands for facial drooping, “A” for arm weakness, “S” for slurred speech and “T” for time to call 911.

The faster a stroke is spotted, the sooner treatment can be administered. Otherwise, the stroke could become life-altering or fatal.

Dr. Theodore Them, Chief of Occupational Medicine at Guthrie, suffered a stroke in March.

“I was sitting at my desk and I felt a little tingling in two fingers in my right hand,” he said. “I shook it off and I thought it was nothing other than (my) arm going to sleep, as we say.”

While driving to Corning, Them felt the tingling again. Except this time, it was more severe and travelled up his entire arm.

“That’s one of the red flags of stroke impending,” said Them.

Them immediately underwent consultation via telemedicine, and went to the emergency room for treatment.

There are currently two forms of treatment for a stroke.

One is a medication that is injected into the veins and attacks the clot. The other is a device that is inserted into the arteries, and threaded to where the clot is in the brain to pull it out.

Them was given the injection and showed a 70 percent of improvement in a matter of hours.

His quick thinking and decision making saved his life.

“I was fortunate,” he said “I was spared all my motion, all of my thinking, all my movement. All I’m suffering as a residual is a pressure sensation in my upper right extremity, right chest and right half of my face, with some mild dullness to touch.”

“I’m very fortunate. It could have been fatal. It could have been much worse,” he added.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals have suspended optional treatment, and some people are wary about entering one. Rickert emphasized the importance of seeking treatment for a stroke, even as the hospital landscape is different.

“The danger to not seeking immediate care is the longer the stroke symptoms are there, the more likely it is that the brain will die,” she said. “If the brain dies, then the stroke symptoms will become permanent.”

Additionally, she noted that even if you are aware of the stroke, treatment is urgently needed and is only available at hospitals.

“If you have signs and symptoms of a stroke, the only treatment is at the hospital, so you need to come to the hospital,” she said.

Them said that Guthrie has taken steps to ensure a sanitary environment for people who enter the hospital.

“Every hospital, especially ours, has taken many, many protective steps — from the doorway, to the doctor’s exam room — to protect the patients,” he said.

Speaking from experience, he echoed Rickert’s message of urgently getting to the hospital for treatment.

“Don’t risk it,” he said. “That’s my message.”

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