Fast Action to Save Stroke Patient Leaves Medical Student Inspired, Humbled

world stroke day

While the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine has invested heavily in numerous tools and technologies to provide medical students with as close to a "real-life" experience as possible, there’s still no substitute for the real thing.

Last summer, that point was driven home for James Alstott, a fourth-year medical student from Laurens, Iowa. Alstott was on his neurology rotation working with the Stroke Team when they were called to the Emergency Room for a Code Stroke patient. As the team evaluated the patient, a 72-year-old-man, they discovered the right side of his face was paralyzed, along with some paralysis in his right arm and leg. The team deduced from the patient’s cell phone call log that his symptoms had developed within a window that allowed the team to issue a clot-busting drug called a tissue plasminogen activator (tPA). Seven minutes after starting the tPA infusion, the patient had a dramatic response as he regained the complete function of his right arm and leg.

Taking quick action to address stroke is imperative. "Timing for acute stroke treatment is critical, because nearly two million brain cells die every minute that an artery remains blocked. Fortunately in this case, we were able to open the artery with tPA quickly enough so that the patient could completely recover. This serves as an example of how important it is to recognize the symptoms of stroke early, so appropriate treatment can be started as quickly as possible."

"It was the closest thing to a miracle I have ever seen in medicine," Alstott says. "It literally brought tears of joy to my eyes!"

Alstott calls it a transcendent moment in medicine. "The part of the UI Hospitals and Clinics motto that says 'Changing Lives' was incredibly tangible," he says. "I was so enthused by what I had witnessed and participated in, I called my parents to tell them about it."

Alstott, who has wanted to be a doctor "since I was four or five" says his experience in the ER was heightened by the fact that his maternal grandmother suffered a severe stroke a year ago.

"It left her with partial paralysis and loss of her independence. It was amazing to see someone recover so quickly because the correct treatment was started in a timely fashion."

For Alstott, the lessons that remain with him are many.

"I learned that at the end of the day, medicine is about investing in the care of another human, which is extremely profound and impactful. I learned the importance of teamwork and of the value of a multidisciplinary team. I came away awed, proud and humble about the profession I’ve chosen. Medicine has amazing power to impact people’s lives in a positive way and I feel great responsibility and honor to be part of such a profession."