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September 23, 2013 06:16 PM

eStroke: Saving Lives In Rural Areas

parkston, sd

Did you ever stop to think about how fast you could reach medical help, if there was an emergency? Only half of us live within one hour of a primary stroke center.

That's important because you only have three hours from the time stroke symptoms appear to receive a medication that can literally save your life.

At 43-years-old, Jason Semmler never thought he'd have a stroke. But, around two years ago, Semmler was out with family and friends when he started noticing some troubling symptoms.

"All of a sudden my right eye started to water. I took off my glasses and rubbed my eye. I tried to get my glasses back on and I couldn't get them back on," Semmler said.

Instead of getting better, Semmler's symptoms got worse. He became dizzy, confused and had trouble standing. That's when his wife took him here to Avera St. Benedict Health Center in Parkston.

Dr. Jason Wickersham believed Semmler was suffering from a stroke.

"In a small rural facility, most patients don't arrive in time," Wickersham said.

Every second counts when a patient suffers a stroke, but Parkston is 75 miles away from the closest stroke care center in Sioux Falls.

The eStroke program is helping to bridge the miles and save time when minutes can make the difference between life and death. Through the program, Semmler's doctor was able to consult a neurologist in Sioux Falls through this camera. The neurologist could also see both the doctor and the patient and advised giving Semmler a clot-busting drug.

"She's much more used to using that type of medication and could walk us through what the risks are, what the potential benefits are, what are your chances of improvement and what are your chances of this making it worse," Wickersham said.

Doctors have just a three-hour window to use the medication called tPA.

"Had he not got that clot buster, he might have dealt with life-long paralysis and problems with speech," Wickersham said.

"I feel very fortunate with how things evolved," Semmler said.

eStroke is now available in 68 of Avera's hospitals. Avera officials say the service is especially important with the state's aging population.

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