WANAQUE, N.J. – Kathryn and Matthew Bellifemine are going on a tour of California in May.
The Wanaque couple is also planning a cruise with their whole family to “try to get everybody together while we still can,” said Matthew.
But the two trips almost never happened.
In December, Matthew found Kathryn lying on the kitchen floor, and was unable to pick her up. He recognized the signs of stroke and called 911.
Kathryn suffered a major ischemic stroke – the leading cause of disability in the United States. Thanks to a combination of people around her quickly recognizing her signs of stroke, new medical technology, and rapid treatment, she walked out of intensive care in just 48 hours.
She does physical therapy for some numbness and weakness on her left side, but doctors say things could have ended much worse.
“If she didn’t get this treatment she would not have survived. Or if she did survive she would have been disabled in a way that would have left her in a nursing home, unable to eat, unable to speak, unable to walk,” said neurologist Dr. Robert Felberg, medical director of The Stroke Center at Overlook Medical Center.
Dr. Feldberg first met Kathryn in the ambulance via a Skype-like device called In-Transit TeleMedicine. The cutting-edge technology allowed him to begin to assess and diagnose her immediately, while she traveled to Chilton Medical Center.
“As soon as a stroke occurs, brain cells are dying right away at a rate of 2 million per minute. So rapid treatment is the key to good outcomes,” said Dr. Feldberg. “Minutes make a big difference. And by using the In-Transit Telestroke, we have found that we have been able to consistently reduce the time from when a person comes to the hospital to the time they get the treatment.”
At Chilton, Kathryn was given a clot-busting drug and stabilized. She was then airlifted to Overlook where endovascular surgeon Ronald Benitez used state-of-the-art equipment to embolize and stent her right carotid artery.
Kathryn said when she came to at Overlook, the doctor asked her if she recognized him. Through the screen, “he was with me the whole time,” she recalled. “In the ambulance. In Chilton. In the helicopter. And in Overlook. He was with me the whole time, watching everything that was going on.”
Now Kathryn and Matthew, who have been together for 54 years, are spreading the word about the signs of stroke. They want others to be aware, so they can be treated quickly as well, they said.
Doctors use the acronym F.A.S.T. to help people remember the signs of stroke. F stands for face drooping. A stands for arm weakness. S stands for speech difficulty. And T stands for time to call 911.
Click here to sign up for Daily Voice's free daily emails and news alerts.