Recognizing stroke symptoms are key to early treatment

Judy McKamey is recovering from a stroke.
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For stroke patients, minutes matter and there are warning signs that may help you save someone you love.

A stroke happens when an area of the brain doesn't get enough oxygen. It can happen because of a clot or a rupture, but either way, brain cells start to die and it's key to respond quickly, to dramatically improve outcomes.

Right now, Judy McKamey's bicycle is collecting dust in the garage and triggering bad memories.

"I don't know why I'm not afraid of many things, but the memory is still there," McKamey said.

She was on a bike ride this spring when, at age 49, she had a stroke.

"I thought something is happening and I don't know what it is," she said.

Her neighbor, Nellie Beam, came to her aid.

"I couldn't speak," McKamey said.

"Just the side of her face was drooped down, just the one side," Beam said.

"It's not surprising. We see it everyday, unfortunately," said St. Vincent neurologist Dr. Cynthia McGarvey.

Beam made sure Judy got medical help quickly.

"The good news is that Judy got here within a short amount of time and she was able to receive the clot-busting medicine," McGarvey said.

The FDA-approved medication TPA can be given within three hours, but the sooner you give it, the better the result.

The medicine limited the stroke damage from expanding. McGarvey says Judy will continue to see improvements for 12 months after her stroke, with the help of therapy and is daily medications.

"We give them an aspirin a day, that's our primary stroke prevention and secondary stroke prevention. Any woman over the age of 45 should really probably be taking it," she said.

McKamey has a lot to live for, including a new granddaughter to show off at a family wedding in December, where some of the guests might be surprised to hear her new accent.

"I told people if you didn't know Judy and you're just meeting for the first time, you would swear that she just got here from Sweden and she looks the part. Blonde hair, blue eyes, beautiful," said Judy's husband, Brett.

McKamey no longer needs her whiteboard to communicate and is working to strengthen her throat and tongue muscles and return to her Hoosier dialect. Maybe by then, she'll be riding her bike again.

The warning signs of stroke include facial asymmetry, slurred speech, uneven arm movement. Judy found she was drooling and couldn't speak. Often, it's the people around a patient that have to recognize what's happening and take action.