By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS
Roger Keller will be among the more than 20 stroke advocates from around the country who will flock to Washington, D.C., on March 1 to talk with lawmakers about expanded access to telestroke for people on Medicare.
The 54-year-old “can’t put into words” how vital telestroke was when he suffered a stroke last October.
Telestroke uses digital video, smartphones and other online communications to connect patients having a stroke to off-site neurologists who immediately interpret brain scan results and make treatment recommendations.
The advocates hope to convince members of Congress to pass the Furthering Access to Stroke Telemedicine Act — or FAST Act — which would allow Medicare to reimburse for telestroke evaluations, regardless of whether a patient is in a rural or urban hospital. Medicare currently pays for a telestroke evaluations for patients treated at a rural hospital, but not for patients at urban or suburban hospitals.
Keller had just returned home from work and was drinking a cup of coffee when he began choking, as if liquid had accidentally gone down his windpipe. The stroke had shut down his gag reflex. He then fell to the floor, his entire left side going limp. His wife called 911.
When Keller arrived at his local medical facility in Marion, Ohio, there was no stroke specialist, so he was treated by a remote stroke specialist via telestroke.
“I saw the doctor talking to me through the television and recommending how to proceed,” Keller said. “Within 20 minutes, I had been administered [the clot-busting drug tissue plasminogen activator, or] tPA, and was in a helicopter en route to Riverside, a larger medical facility in Columbus, Ohio.”
Once at Riverside, doctors were able to remove the clot from his brain. Several minutes later, Keller started to regain feeling in his left side.
After one week in the hospital, Keller was sent to a rehab facility, where he saw patients “much worse off” than him. Keller greatly credits his quick recovery to telestroke and the prompt access it gave him to a specialist.
“With stroke, timing is everything,” Keller said. “If I had waited a little longer to receive treatment because I didn’t have access to telestroke, the amount of time I spent recovering and out of work would have been much longer.”
Keller plans to return to work in early February.
Since his stroke, Keller has quit smoking and become an advocate for expanding telestroke services nationwide.
“I just think that if that made that much of a difference for me, it could make a difference for thousands of people,” he said. “Just a small change in access can make a tremendous difference in how a person recovers from a stroke and their quality of life thereafter.”