Elise Sheridan had just gotten home from vacation and put her 10- and 12-year-old daughters to bed when her hand started to tingle and she felt a headache come on.
It was early September 2019, and at age 47, Sheridan was having a stroke.
"I’m fine," she tried to insist.
But her husband James noticed the left side of her face drooping. He called 911. Sheridan was rushed by ambulance from their Wantagh home to St. Joseph Hospital in Bethpage, and then transferred to Good Samaritan Hospital in West Islip, both in the Catholic Health hospital system.
"What she had was a life-threatening stroke," Dr. Kimon Bekelis, chairman of neurointerventional services at Catholic Health, who removed the clot that caused Sheridan’s stroke, said in an interview. Without proper care, "if she had survived this, she definitely would be looking into a life of disability."
The rapid and possibly life-saving care that Sheridan received is the kind of treatment that recently earned Good Samaritan and other Long Island hospitals Gold Plus awards in the American Heart Association’s Get With The Guidelines program for stroke care, a voluntary program that tracks how well hospitals adhere to scientifically proven standards for stroke treatment, including how rapidly they give intravenous clot-busting medication.
This year, nearly all the hospitals on Long Island – 22 out of 23, not counting the region’s two psychiatric hospitals and the Veterans Administration facility in Northport – earned that designation, indicating they have provided rapid, high-quality care for at least two years, the association announced last month.
"We are pleased to recognize these hospitals in the Long Island area for their commitment to stroke care," Dr. Lee H. Schwamm, national chairperson of the association’s Quality Oversight Committee, said in a statement. Hospitals that abide by the guidelines, he said, "can often see fewer readmissions and lower mortality rates."
Many winners on LI
Long Island has an unusually large proportion of hospitals adhering to the guidelines, with 96% winning the designation. Across New York state, 108 hospitals earned Gold Plus recognition. That’s 66% of the state’s 163 hospitals, according to American Hospital Association figures. Nationwide, 1,450 hospitals were recognized for Gold Plus stroke care. That’s 29% of the country’s roughly 5,000 hospitals.
The 22 Long Island award recipients are all designated as "stroke centers" by the Joint Commission, the nation’s oldest health care accrediting organization. Four – Good Samaritan as well as Northwell's North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, NYU Langone Hospital-Long Island in Mineola and Stony Brook University Hospital in Stony Brook – are comprehensive stroke centers, the highest level of certification, meaning teams of brain surgeons and other specialists are available at all times.
"On Long Island, there has been a very strong push across the board" to provide high-level stroke care, said Dr. Michael Guido, director of the Stony Brook Neurology Stroke Program and co-director of the Stony Brook Cerebrovascular and Stroke Center at Stony Brook Medicine. The American Heart Association program, he said, encourages hospitals to track and report treatment data, and "show that you're doing the right thing for patients."
Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport is not a stroke center and does not participate in the American Heart Association stroke program, according to Stony Brook. Stroke patients on the North Fork are taken by ambulance or helicopter to other hospitals, or they are stabilized at Eastern Long Island and transferred, Guido said.
'The value of time'
About 800,000 people suffer strokes – blockages of blood supply to the brain, or burst blood vessels in the brain – each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Sheridan’s case, the clot in her brain was too large to be treated with intravenous medication, Bekelis said. Instead, Bekelis performed a mechanical thrombectomy, threading instruments through Sheridan’s blood vessels up to her brain to grab the clot and remove it.
When Sheridan arrived at Good Samaritan she couldn’t move the left side of her body, but that changed as soon as the clot was cleared, Bekelis said. "Obviously, that's very rewarding for us, but also, it speaks volumes to the value of time," he said.
Sheridan, who owns a home decor business, said much of that night remains a blur. But, she said, "I do remember, at one point, kind of waking up and hearing someone say... ‘congratulations, you made it through just fine.' "
Warning signs of stroke
The American Heart Association advises calling 911 in case of a potential stroke, which can cause these symptoms:
- Face drooping
- Arm weakness
- Speech difficulty
Other symptoms can include numbness, confusion, trouble seeing or walking and severe headache with no known cause, the group says.