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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Those were the shortest 15 minutes of my life: Stroke centers

Chuck Toeniskoetter says he's alive today because of a nurse and a paramedic who came to his aid when he collapsed one snowy day high atop a mountain.

They didn't administer CPR. They didn't give him life-saving drugs. They didn't treat him at all. What they did was get him to the right hospital.

The helicopter ambulance pilot wanted to take Chuck to the closest hospital. But the nurse and the paramedic suspected he'd had a stroke and urged the pilot to go to a certified stroke center, 15 minutes further away.

"They stood on the runners of the helicopter and were relentless with the pilot. They saved my life," he recalls.

At the stroke center in Roseville, California, Chuck received TPA, a drug that dissolved the clot in his brain. It's likely that at the other hospital -- the one the helicopter ambulance pilot wanted to take him to -- he wouldn't have received TPA.

After Chuck's experience, he started the Stroke Awareness Foundation, to help others choose the right hospital if they've had a stroke.

When he thinks about how the nurse and the paramedic argued for him to go the extra 15 minutes to the stroke center, he says he'll always be grateful.

"Those were the shortest 15 minutes of my life," he says.

Art Caplan’s Advice: The first step is to find out where an ambulance would take you if you dialed 911. If you want to go elsewhere, you might be out of luck. Often you can't persuade an ambulance driver to go to a stroke center if you've had a stroke, or to go to a children's hospital if your child is injured. But you can be an informed consumer and check with emergency service providers in your area to find which hospital you'd be taken to and see whether you'd be able to negotiate a different destination.

Read another of our stroke survivor stories, or read Elizabeth Cohen’s source story.

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