In a Matter of Minutes
At Providence Little Company of Mary, stroke care is excellent and expedient.
One morning in mid-February, Gabrielle Perkins, a 33-year-old hair salon owner and mother of a 10-year-old son, awakened in her home in San Pedro and got up to use the bathroom, the sort of thing she might normally do without a second thought. But this day was terrifyingly different. “When I got out of bed, I just fell to the floor,” she recalls.
Perkins didn’t realize it, but she had suffered a stroke, in which a massive blood clot had become lodged in an artery, blocking the flow of oxygen-rich blood to part of her brain. Oxygen-starved brain cells were starting to die, causing damage that can interfere with a person’s ability to perform basic functions such as walking and standing.
Though Perkins was partly paralyzed, she still had the ability to speak and use one of her hands. She reached for her phone and called her brother Guylen, who quickly came over. At Perkins’ request, he helped her into the bathroom, where she fell a second time. “He was like, ‘OK, sister, I think I’m going to take you to the doctor,’ ” Perkins says.
With a stroke, prompt diagnosis and treatment are critical for stopping further damage and reducing the risk of permanent disability. Fortunately for Perkins, she had two nearby hospitals to serve her: Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Centers San Pedro and Torrance. The stroke teams at both hospitals work together to provide stroke patients with state-of-the-art care. The South Bay community is fortunate that for nearly a decade, Providence has been certified as an Advanced Primary Stroke Center and is the South Bay’s only Joint Commission–certified Comprehensive Stroke Center.
After Perkins’s brother drove her to Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center San Pedro that morning, staffers met her out front and helped her into a wheelchair. Then they rushed her into the hospital to see Miles Shaw, MD, who quickly spotted signs of a possible stroke: near-complete paralysis of her right side, inability to walk, slurred speech. “For a very young patient like this to have a permanent disability would be just horrible,” he says. A quick CT angiogram, a scan that depicts blood flow, revealed an obstruction several inches long on the left side of her brain, which controls the functions on the right side of the body.
“I remember that they told me I was having a stroke,” Perkins says. “I’m like, ‘Are you sure?’”
About 10 miles away at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center Torrance, Jason W. Tarpley, MD, PhD, an interventional neurologist who specializes in treating strokes, stared at the same image. Through a video link, the hospital’s telehealth team explained to Perkins why she was experiencing the symptoms on her right side, and what needed to be done to help her.
Perkins barely remembers the ambulance ride to Torrance, where Dr. Tarpley and his team were waiting. The hospital has a stroke receiving patient room in the emergency department that allows physicians to act quickly in the event of a stroke. Dr. Tarpley performed a procedure called a thrombectomy, in which he inserted a small tube about the size of an iPhone charging cable into an artery in Perkins’s leg and carefully navigated up into her brain. Along the way, the tip of the catheter opened and another, smaller catheter was extended to suction the clot. “We really can remove the clots anywhere we want to in the arteries of the brain,” he explains.
Perkins recalls awakening afterward and being shown the clot that Dr. Tarpley had extracted. “It was so big,” she says. “It looked like a piece of Twizzler. I’m like, ‘That was in my brain?’ ”
“About 50% of our patients will have an outcome like Gabrielle,” Dr. Tarpley explains. “What we’re trying to do is think about every possible thing we can do to increase the number of patients with excellent outcomes.
A key part of the effort to improve stroke patients’ chances is Providence Little Company of Mary Torrance’s partnership with the Pacific Neuroscience Institute, a practice of which Dr. Tarpley is a member. “It enables us to have truly academic-level medicine,” Dr. Tarpley says. “We have clinical trials only available at the Providence LCM Torrance Comprehensive Stroke Center for patients having strokes, where we can give them access to cutting-edge therapies that they would not have at regular community hospitals.”
Nearly six months after her stroke, Perkins is still working with speech and physical therapists at Providence Little Company of Mary San Pedro’s Acute Rehab Center, a program that’s nationally ranked by the Uniform Data System for Medical Rehabilitation (UDSMR). On her own, she spent days working with a doll’s head, successfully relearning how to braid hair, one of her professional skills. “It was hard for me,” she admits. “I just kind of forced myself into relearning it, because I told myself, I’m not going to be anything if I can’t work. I had to get that back.”
For more information on stroke services, call 844-925-0942.