Registered nurse Shirley Richards was used to being on the service end of the health-care system. In October, 2011, however, she needed medical care after suffering a massive stroke while at a client’s house. Luckily, another health-care worker was onsite, recognized the signs and called 911.

That phone call set into action Manitoba’s newly established protocol for a suspected stroke patient. Time is critical in the case of an ischemic stroke (when an artery to the brain is blocked) and there is a short window of about 4.5 hours to administer a ‘clot-busting’ drug called tPA, which can restore blood flow, helping patients recover more quickly and decrease the chance of the patient suffering severe disabilities.

The protocol changes had only been initiated a few months prior, as part of the province’s overall strategy to improve care and strive for better outcomes for stroke patients. In this case, there was little time to waste, so, rather than taking Shirley to hospital by ground ambulance, STARS was dispatched immediately and the pilots landed the helicopter in her client’s yard just south of Manitou. The helicopter flew directly to the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg where she received the drug.

Initially, however, the medical staff wasn’t certain that it was indeed working. “STARS got me there before the deadline, but it took a while to take effect,” said Shirley, 75. “The doctor told my husband and son they might need to operate, but not long after that the clot broke up and I didn’t need to have surgery after all.”

Shirley, who has mostly recovered, is grateful for the efficient response in the moments following her stroke. She praises her coworker who called 911, the paramedics on the ground, STARS in the air and hospital staff. “I am fortunate I had the right people who knew exactly what to do and the helicopter response was amazing,” said Shirley. “I needed to get help quickly and that’s exactly what I got.”

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