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Know the Signs, BE FAST and Call 911!

Know the Signs, BE FAST and Call 911!

Washington Hospital’s Stroke Team is Ready 24/7/365

Most people know to go to a hospital’s emergency department (ED) when a medical crisis arises, but not everyone knows how important it is to call 911 at the first signs of a stroke, or even what those signs are. May is National Stroke Awareness Month and the award-winning Stroke Team at Washington Hospital has a lifesaving message for everyone living in the Tri-City Area. The team wants you to be able to recognize the signs of a stroke and to know that when you call 911 they are on duty, ready to help.

A stroke occurs when blood flow to an area of the brain is cut off. When this happens, brain cells don’t get enough oxygen and begin to die. When brain cells die during a stroke, abilities controlled by that area of the brain, such as speaking, memory, or muscle control are lost. That’s why, at the first sign of stroke it is said, “time is brain,” and every minute counts. Quite often it is a family member, not the stroke victim, who recognizes a stroke and calls 911. So it’s important for everyone to know the signs.

The acronym “BE FAST” is a good way to recognize the signs of stroke and remember what to do if you think a person is having one.

Balance: Is the person experiencing a sudden loss of balance or coordination?

Eyes: Are they having a sudden change in vision or trouble seeing?

Face: Ask them to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

Arms: Ask them to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

Speech: Ask them to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?

Time: If you observe any of these signs, call 911 immediately.

Washington Hospital is the designated receiving center for strokes in Southern Alameda County and a certified Primary Stroke Center. This means stroke patients receive the best and fastest possible testing and treatment from the moment they arrive in the ED to the time they leave the Hospital to continue their rehabilitation.

“When a stroke patient arrives by ambulance, our team is waiting and prepared to help, no matter what level of stroke they are experiencing,” said the Stroke Program’s Co-medical Director, Prabhjot Singh Khalsa, MD, a neurosurgeon at Washington Hospital. “Our stroke team includes an ED physician, neurologist, dedicated stroke nurse and ED nurses, CT scan tech, radiologist, pharmacist, and phlebotomist who have all been alerted and are ready to assess, test, diagnose and treat each stoke patient upon arrival.”

A Stroke Story:

It was around bedtime when a local 83-year-old man suddenly became unable to speak or sit up. His wife saw that his right side seemed to be paralyzed. She recognized the signs of stroke and immediately called 911. On their way to Washington Hospital, the paramedics called ahead, “Code Neuro!” which means a stroke victim is en route. When he arrived, the Stroke Team was waiting.

Right away, the man was assessed as an 11 on the National Institutes of Health Stroke Scale (NIHSS) which is dangerously high. His CT imaging studies confirmed he had suffered an acute ischemic stroke, which means a blood vessel carrying blood to his brain was blocked by a blood clot. Within 37 minutes of arrival, he was administered a clot-busting medicine called tPA, which likely saved him from debilitating disabilities, or even death (the national goal “from door to needle” for tPA delivery is 60 minutes). Upon receiving tPA, his score lowered to a NIHSS of 3 as he regained his ability to speak and sit up.

Three days later, the patient was talking and laughing as he left the Hospital to continue his rehabilitation. He had 75% of his original functionality and was discharged with a good prognosis for further improvement.

Stroke is a leading cause of death and disability in the U.S. and it has been identified as a top health care need in our community. The message is simple. Know the signs of stroke and if you think someone is having one, call 911. For more on the signs of stroke, knowing your risk, and how to prevent it, go to For more information on Washington Hospital’s Stroke Program, visit