Published on May 28, 2021

Northlander credits Essentia Health’s award-winning stroke care team for his recovery

Every year, about 795,000 people suffer a stroke. It’s an alarming trend that’s seeing 1 in every 6 deaths from cardiovascular disease attributed to a stroke. It’s the No. 5 cause of death for Americans.

It’s something 72-year-old Leonard (Len) Beck said he couldn’t believe happened to him. The life-long Northlander was going about his day when his stroke came out of nowhere. After working on his house on a hot October afternoon in 2019, Beck left his Esko home for a dentist appointment in Cloquet. Feeling lightheaded, Beck chalked it up to working in the sun all day. When he arrived at the dentist, that’s when it happened.

“I tripped and fell to the ground,” he said. “I thought I was fine, I had no idea I was having a stroke, I was honestly more worried about my phone at the time.”

Fortunately for Beck, after watching him stumble through the door, the staff at North Country Dental suspected he was having a medical emergency. They called 9-1-1 and the Cloquet EMS was on scene within 5 minutes. Once in the ambulance, EMTs pre-alerted the ER and Stroke team at St. Mary’s, Essentia Health, Duluth and rushed him there, sirens blaring

Waiting in the wings was Dr. Vikram Jadhav, or Dr. Vic as he’s affectionately known by, and his specialized Stroke and Neurointervention team. By the time Beck arrived at St. Mary’s, he was already exhibiting signs of a large stroke in right side of his brain. The stroke was progressively paralyzing the left side of his body. Though, Beck’s language was preserved, his ability to talk was hampered due to paralysis of the speech muscles. Dr. Vic’s team got a CT scan of Beck’s head and administered intravenous alteplase, a clot buster drug within 15 mins of his arrival in the ER.

“They were really on their toes. Thank goodness for them,” said Beck, saying he wasn’t sure if he would be here today if it wasn’t for the staff at the dentist’s office, the EMS, and ER and Stroke team at St. Mary’s, Essentia Health.

“When I arrived, the neurologists (ER and Stroke team) were ready and waiting for me. It was astounding how quickly they worked,” he said.

Dr. Vic activated the NASCAR team – which stands for Neuro Angio-Suite for Cerebral Arterial Reperfusion and took Beck to the OR. Calling a “Code NASCAR,” they acted fast, and performed what’s known as stroke thrombectomy. It’s a procedure where a catheter is inserted in the groin or arm area and guided with expert precision to the brain to remove potentially deadly clots blocking blood flow to the brain. Larger clots on several occasions do not dissolve with the clot bluster drug and need the lifesaving stroke thrombectomy procedure performed by Dr. Vic. He and his NASCAR team took out the clot and reestablished blood flow to right side of Beck’s brain within 50 minutes of his arrival to St. Mary’s Essentia Health ER.

“He’s phenomenal. He saved my life,” said Beck, expressing his gratitude for Dr. Vic and the whole team. Beck barely had any deficits and made a remarkable recovery after the procedure.

About 18 months after his stroke, Beck is happy to report life has returned to normal for him, and he has no long-term side effects.
“I’m feeling fine, I feel good,” he said. “The care at Essentia was wonderful – it was astounding. They keep good tabs on you to make sure you’re OK.”

Beck, who’s retired after a lengthy career at Minnesota Power, is back to doing the things he loves, including fishing, managing some rental properties in Duluth and Cloquet, and curating his collection of 56 classic Buick cars.

“My dad had them (the Buicks) when I was young. It was probably the first car I ever drove, so, I just stuck with them. They bring a lot of joy and good memories with them,” he said.

And he’s happy the care he received at Essentia helped him recover so he can enjoy those days when the bite is good on the lake, or he can just stand in admiration at the car collection he has amassed.

“It’s like a second chance at life. It’s a real blessing and I’m so thankful. It’s better than winning the lottery, because you only get one life, and you can’t buy it back,” he said.

The stroke thrombectomy treatment can be provided up to 24 hours from symptom onset in appropriate cases. “Done in a timely manner, stroke thrombectomy can prevent profound neurological deficits, such as paralysis, loss of language function, inability to speak or swallow, and even death,” said Dr. Vic.

Dr. Vic said taking care of your body is one of the surest ways to prevent a stroke. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking and diabetes are the leading causes of stroke, with 1 in 3 U.S. adults having at least one of these conditions or habits, according to the CDC. Dr. Vic says monitoring your health and keeping risk factors to a minimum by eating healthy and staying physically active are the best ways to keep the risk at bay.

Stroke is one of the leading causes of long-term disability. Depending on which side of the brain it occurs in, it can lead to paralysis, speech problems, memory loss, vision problems and more. One of the surest ways to prevent long-term side effects associated with a stroke is to act fast when signs and symptoms occur. Symptoms include sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm or leg, confusion or trouble speaking, vision issues, dizziness, a sudden severe headache and more.

You can recognize the signs and symptoms of a stroke by using the acronym BEFAST:

B: Balance loss, incoordination, unsteady gait
E: Eye, vision loss in one or both eyes
F: Facial droop and numbness
A: Arm and leg weakness
S: Speech Difficulty
T: Time to call 9-1-1

Essentia’s Certified Advanced Thrombectomy Capable Stroke Center is a nationally accredited care unit. Certified by the Joint Commission last fall, Essentia is the only facility north of the Twin Cities certified to remove clots from blood vessels in the brain, thereby re-establishing blood flow. This certification requires that Essentia offer 24-7 stroke care with the highest most stringent standards.

Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Medical Center’s work with stroke patients earned recognition from the American Heart Association/ American Stroke Association. In 2020, we were awarded the Get With The Guidelines®-Stroke Gold Plus Quality Achievement Award. The award recognizes the hospital’s commitment to ensuring stroke patients receive the most appropriate treatment according to nationally recognized, research-based guidelines based on the latest scientific evidence.

Also, in 2020, SMMC received the Target: Stroke Honor Roll Elite Plus and Advanced Therapy award. To qualify for this, hospitals must meet quality measures developed to reduce the time between the patient’s arrival at the hospital and treatment with the clot-buster tissue plasminogen activator, or tPA. It is the only drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat ischemic stroke. SMMC also achieved high-quality scores for quick treatment with the stroke thrombectomy program.

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