Patricia and Rick Berggren know that every moment counts when someone is suffering a stroke.
Rick Berggren was 42 years old when his moment came. It was 20 years ago, long before doctors had clotbusting drugs and other treatment options available for stroke patients today.
That's why the Youngstown couple are thankful that Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center has teamed up with Millard Fillmore Hospital's Dent Neurological Clinic to address stroke symptoms -- starting when someone walks into the Falls hospital's emergency room.
"If this can prevent one person from going through the long road of recovery that we've gone through, it's worth it," said Patricia Berggren, corporate adviser for the medical center's foundation.
In the last few months, Memorial has developed the capacity to treat stroke victims immediately and double their chances of full recovery.
Dr. Nyathappa Anand, a neurologist and the hospital's stroke director, said the program started last November with a team of medical professionals armed with high-tech equipment that can evaluate a patient and who can intervene almost immediately to limit or reverse resulting physical damages.
"Today, Memorial has provided Niagara County with an unbelieveable resource with this stroke program," Patricia Berggren said.
Though the program is already up and running, she said, "In the next few weeks, Memorial is going to receive the New York State Health Department designation as a Community Stroke Center."
Memorial's emergency room doctors are all certified in emergency medicine and are trained to recognize stroke victims, Anand said. Medical staff can use MRI-type CT scanners to establish if someone has suffered a stroke, and they can inject a clotbuster called TPA -- Tissue Plasminogen Activator -- to dissolve the blood clot that caused the stroke.
"If they do it soon enough -- it has to be done within three hours -- a person has a 50 percent better chance of a full recovery or at least of suffering as little damage as possible," Anand said. "Of course," he added, "we can't always guarantee full recovery."
The advantage to Niagara County residents is that treatment can begin almost right away.
Before November, he said, the hospital was referring all patients to Millard Fillmore Hospital at Gates Circle, the area's only designated stroke center.
And while Memorial is now well-equipped, Anand said if his staff has problems, they are able via a secured computer program to speak with specialists at Millard Fillmore "in real time" to see what can be done to handle an individual case more effectively.
Doctors at Gates Circle can monitor Memorial's stroke patients and look at medical records of those patients.
If a more invasive procedure is needed, the patient then can be sent to Millard Fillmore.
The Berggrens followed the proper protocol at the time Rick Berggren suffered his stroke, going to the nearest emergency room, Mount St. Mary's Hospital in Lewiston. Then he was transfered to Memorial, and then to Gates.
"It took too long," Patricia Berggren said. "He suffered total paralysis on the right side and he could not speak."
Weeks of intensive treatment were followed by four years of speech and physical therapy. He largely recovered, though he walks with a slight limp and does not have the use of his right arm. He still plays golf, and can tie a tie with one hand.
If Memorial had the technology and a stroke center staff back then, Patricia Berggren said, "Rick would have been scanned, diagnosed with a stroke and administered a clotbuster. The chances of his reversal of symptoms would have been very high. He might have fully recovered, possibly without having had to go through years of therapy."
Now, those suffering a stroke in western Niagara County are more likely to have a better outcome.
"[Treatment] has to start soon because every minute we lose, the victim loses about three million neurons in the brain," Dr. Anand said, "so the earlier we do it, the better the victim's chances of recovery are."