Long-distance stroke help

Stroke survivor Willis Tisdale of Kingstree talks with Ray Greenberg, president of the Medical University of South Carolina, after Monday's presentation of an American Heart Association award to MUSC. 'I was scared plum to death,' Tisdale said of his str

Willis Tisdale of Kingstree was heading to a deer stand deep in the woods of South Carolina when he said "one side of my body stopped working." He suspected -- correctly -- that he was having a stroke and managed to drive himself to Williamsburg Medical Center in Kingstree.

"I was scared plum to death," Tisdale said.

While he was still in his snake boots, the hospital staff went to work and contacted stroke experts at the Medical University of South Carolina.

Based on that consultation, an emergency helicopter was sent to pick him up, and while in flight, Tisdale was treated with intravenous "tPA," or tissue plasminogen activator, a drug that dissolves clots in certain patients suffering from a stroke or heart attack. It is the only drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration for urgent treatment of ischemic stroke.

Willis -- who in years past would have been a fatality statistic in strokes in the Palmetto State -- said he felt better before even landing in Charleston. He said, "When I got down here, I was about ready to go back home."

Regional stroke experts say that Willis is the beneficiary of MUSC's REACH program, a web-based outreach initiative that stands for "remote evaluation of acute ischemic stroke." It is a part of the university's larger effort to use "telemedicine" to provide high-quality care to underserved areas of the state, such as the stroke belt that runs along the coastal plain from the Pee Dee to the Savannah River.

MUSC serves as the hub for the program, and a dozen small and rural hospitals, including Williamsburg, as the spokes.

Since REACH's creation in May 2008, neuroscientists at MUSC have provided about 500 consultations for stroke cases resulting in 200 cases being brought into MUSC in an emergency situation and in the use of tPA in 120 cases.

Already, the program is garnering accolades.

On Monday, the Mid-Atlantic Affiliate of the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association recognized REACH for its innovation in improving care to stroke victims and raising awareness of symptoms.

Connie Gardner, vice president of the Mid-Atlantic Affiliate American Heart Association, said the program has demonstrated MUSC's use of technology to improve the health system in the state.

"(MUSC) is sharing experts with other hospitals in order to improve health and save lives," Gardner said. "And that's our common mission."

MUSC President Ray Greenberg traces the roots of the program to the state's creation of the S.C. Center for Economic Excellence, which recruited world-class scientists to South Carolina as part of a broader effort to create a knowledge-based economy, and that one of those scientists is Dr. Robert Adams.

Greenberg said Adams, director of the MUSC Stroke Center and of the Center of Economic Excellence, is the father of REACH.

Adams said telemedicine is an important innovation, particularly for stroke victims, because time is of the essence.

"You have to move very quickly -- seconds, minutes, hours (matter)," said Adams. "We're making a footprint in stroke (treatment and prevention) in this region."