For 69-year-old Laurie Vidonne of Ellensburg, it was a day like many others: a few hours spent at the Adult Activity Center socializing with friends and a ride home from her husband Roy.
Then a life-threatening medical emergency landed Vidonne at KVH Hospital and brought Vidonne and her family face-to-face – albeit virtually – with a neurologist at Seattle's Virginia Mason Medical Center.
It happened January 29.
Her right leg had been giving her trouble that day. “Then I went into the kitchen to fix a muffin,” she says, “and I couldn't move my right side.”
Roy called 911. Experiencing stroke-like symptoms, Laurie was rushed by ambulance to KVH where Emergency Department staff immediately declared a “stroke alert,” sent her for a CT scan and began a battery of tests to evaluate her condition. That included a screening to see if she was a candidate for a clot busting medication that, if administered within a set number of hours from the onset of symptoms, can help prevent further damage from stroke in some patients.
Meanwhile, KVH staff contacted Virginia Mason Medical Center to arrange a consultation.
“In an emergency room you often wait,” says Roy, impressed with the immediate and efficient coordination of the Emergency Department response. “But they were johnny-on-the-spot.”
Telemedicine uses technology to enable practitioners in one location to diagnose and treat patients in another. It isn't new to KVH. Since 2011, KVH and Virginia Mason have had a collaborative telestroke partnership that allows Emergency Department doctors to consult with a neurologist at Virginia Mason when treating a suspected stroke patient. The arrangement also makes it possible for Virginia Mason neurologists to review CT scans for KVH patients. Last fall, telestroke was enhanced to enable neurologists at Virginia Mason to see and talk with a stroke patient and the patient's family, similar to a Skype call.
Laurie was told she would be examined by a specialist from Virginia Mason. A screen was moved to Laurie's bedside. With a KVH nurse helping guide the exam, Dr. James Bartscher, a neurologist at Virginia Mason, appeared on the screen and began talking to Laurie.
“I could see him but I didn't try to talk at first,” recalls Laurie who suffered a second stroke while talking with Bartscher.
“It was amazing,” Roy says. “It was really something to be here in Ellensburg and be able to get right through to a specialist at Virginia Mason. He looked at her and he talked to her and he knew exactly what was happening. He could see it and he told them what to do.”
Bartscher advised KVH staff to administer the clot busting medication tPA and Laurie was immediately transported by ambulance to Virginia Mason where she was hospitalized in intensive care.
Five days later, she was back in Ellensburg, living at a rehab center where her schedule included physical therapy six days a week.
“It's frightening how much work it takes to recover because the stroke took out my whole right side, from my face all the way down to my feet,” she said in March, sitting in a wheelchair at the rehab center. “I can pretty much feed myself now. That's one of the hardest things, not being able to do things like that.”
Her voice was hearty and her smile frequent.
But she admitted that on occasion frustration-fueled tears helped pave the long road to recovery. “If I didn't have the upbeat attitude I'd be losing it,” she said.
In early April Laurie came home, is now using a walker and is receiving outpatient physical therapy.
“She's doing well,” says Roy, her husband of 48 years, whose own brand of medicine is studded with both encouragement and gentle joshing.
“I have to be careful she doesn't get too far along with that right leg,” he said at one point, drawing laughter from his spouse, “or she just might reach out and whack me.”