Lexington healthcare facility recognized nationally for second time for its stroke treatment and care

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - May is Stroke Awareness Month and every year 800,000 people experience a stroke. 

In Kentucky, the numbers are not good when it comes to stroke victims. In fact, we live in what some say is the stroke belt, and doctors here say we are the buckle of that belt. Fast access to stroke treatment is key to survival, that's why one Lexington health care facility has received a national ranking for its stroke research and patient care.

At 55-years-old Gregg Whiteker is living his best life but admits his health wasn't always a top priority. "I was in very poor health. I had been a diabetic for years and I was 100 pounds heavier than I am right now," Whiteker said. Whiteker credits his wife and high school sweetheart for helping him overhaul his lifestyle. "Not a bit of food goes in my mouth that doesn't belong there," said Whiteker. Despite making some major changes, the damage had already been done and last October Whiteker had a frightening wakeup call. "I noticed I could not hold my phone in my left hand very well it was falling off, and I took our dog Gracie out to use the bathroom and said 'let's go pee-pee and I could not say those words,' said Whiteker. Whiteker ended up at the University of Kentucky HealthCare Emergency Department, where he told them he thought he was having a stroke. "Stroke remains the fifth leading cause of death overall in the U.S., but it is the third leading cause of death in Kentucky," Dr. Jessica Lee, Medical Director of the Comprehensive Stroke Center said. A stroke happens when the blood supply to part of the brain is interrupted. "This was a pretty good sized stroke," Lee said of Whiteker's stroke. Lee says what Whiteker did in not waiting to get to the hospital is what saved him.

"Unfortunately there are still those out there who wait, wake up with their symptoms in the morning or it happened sometime in the day and they say, oh I must have slept funny or I've just overdone it," said Dr. Lee. 

UK HealthCare's Kentucky Neuroscience Institute has recently been re-designated as a Comprehensive Stroke Center by the Joint Commission, it's considered the gold standard of sorts. KNI was the first in Lexington to receive the designation in 2014. Currently, there are only 162 centers like it in the country. So what does that mean to patients?

"What that means is that we can provide the most advanced care for patients with the most complex stroke-related problems," Dr. Larry Goldstein, co-director of. Kentucky Neuroscience Institute said. 

The Comprehensive Stroke status also means there is access to advanced imaging and specialized treatments. UK has been recognized for its efforts to treat a high percentage of appropriate patients with a clot-busting drug in a quicker amount of time. Research is another key component to the comprehensive status. 

"We are actually translating new groundbreaking research in the laboratory and are able to take it directly into the clinic and offer it to our patients," said Dr. Goldstein. 

A recent study at UK is now helping re-educate people on knowing the warning signs of a stroke by adding on to the acronym F.A.S.T, which stands for facial drooping, arm weakness, speech problems and time saved is brain saved. 

"We added the 'Be,' BE Fast because of balance or problems with weakness in the legs and 'e' for problems with vision, all of those things that come on quickly," Goldstein said. Not everyone who has a stroke needs a comprehensive stroke center, but for those who do, Dr. Goldstein says it can make all the difference. It did for Gregg Whiteker who is now is living a healthier life post-stroke. "I'm committed to living as long as I can and I'm too young for this to have happened to," Whiteker said. Whiteker says he is thankful for having the stroke because it led to the discovery of a condition in his heart, and as a result, he needed a quintuple bypass surgery. 

The Comprehensive Stroke designation also came with two other awards from the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association.