The eerie emptiness of emergency departments has doctors nationwide worried that people who are suffering strokes, heart attacks and other life-threatening emergencies are too afraid to call 9-1-1 because of coronaphobia, the fear of catching COVID-19 in the ambulance or at the hospital.
Stroke expert Richard Klucznik, M.D., a Houston, Texas neuroradiologist and president of The Society of Neurointerventional Surgery told CBN News his organization is trying to educate the public about the signs of a stroke and the need to get immediate help as soon as you recognize one or more of the symptoms in yourself or someone else, even during this pandemic.
"Don't fear to call 9-1-1," he said, "because people like me, like us, who do thrombectomies, we're here. We're here at the hospitals. We gear-up and we're ready to handle patients that have potential COVID and may be having a stroke."
Dr. Klucznik encourages people to follow the example of Chicago resident Sharon Robinson, whose daughter Renee called 9-1-1 when it appeared her mother was having a stroke. This, despite the fact that it was during the peak of the virus in that city when hospitals were overrun with coronavirus patients.
"My mother was having a stroke," Renee told CBN News. "So that was bigger than fear of COVID-19. I also have faith in God, in Jesus to be specific, so it was more of a faith thing."
Her quick action paid off. Sharon fully recovered with amazing speed.
"I just praise God. Everything was marvelous. Everything was quick," Sharon said. "I was in the hospital only two days and the doctors were like, 'This is so unbelievable'."
Now Sharon is featured in a video as part of the Get Ahead of Stroke campaign.
SIGNS OF A STROKE
- Facial Drooping, particularly a pronounced drooping only one side of the face;
- Arm Weakness, especially the inability to lift one arm;
- Difficulty speaking, such as slurring speech or not being able to answer a simple question or repeat a short phrase
In addition to coronaphobia, another reason doctors are seeing a drop off in stroke patients is social isolation due to stay-at-home orders during this pandemic.
People who live alone have lost the in-person visits from family and friends that the elderly in particular rely on for care. They may fall through the cracks because a phone call once a day may be too late to discover strokes.
"When you're told to stay away," Dr. Klucznik explained, "People staying home, there's not that good network of people to check on each other."
Coronavirus Causing Strokes in Young Adults
Meanwhile, just as the coronavirus appears to be causing people who are experiencing a stroke to hesitate or neglect seeking help, it looks the virus itself may be causing strokes, particularly in young adults.
In New York and New Jersey, people in their thirties and forties who test positive for COVID-19 are experiencing the most serious type of stroke. Although the numbers are small, it's a sharp increase.
"What we think is happening with the COVID virus is that it's thickening peoples' blood," Dr. Klucznik said. "In other words, it's thrombogenic. So there is some evidence that younger people may be affected by the COVID just because of that fact of the virus."
That thickening can lead to blood clots in vessels leading to the brain, thus causing a stroke. Doctors like Klucznik can often remove the clot, in many cases allowing patients to return to normal. However, the key is treating the patient as soon as possible after symptoms begin.
"Every minute counts," he explained, "because once the blood supply is missing to the brain, cells begin to die pretty quickly."