Local man 'a walking sermon' after stroke

Stroke survivor Ronnie White (center) jokes with Sarah McCord of Mercy Regional Emergency Services, who drove him to the hospital during his May 26 stroke, as his wife Lynda (left) laughs along. White's stroke would have left him paralyzed as few as 10 years ago, but a collaboration between Mercy EMS and Baptist Health Paducah significantly shortened his treatment time, enabling him to recover speech and use of his right side.

Laurel Black | The Sun

Ronnie White has often told his congregation at New Bethel Free Will Baptist Church in Brookport, Illinois, that God still performs miracles.

Now, he says, he can show them proof.

"I tell people that I am a walking sermon -- or a living testimony, whatever you want to call it," White said. "God still has something for me to do."

White's personal miracle happened May 26, a day he remembers in vivid detail. He and a fellow retired carpenter were remodeling a bathroom at a home about three blocks from White's, and he began to feel sick as he ascended a set of stairs.

"I've gone to work many days I didn't feel well, and I figured I could shake this. But as time went on, that was not the case," White said.

White pushed through a few tasks, but he then decided to drive himself home, where he found more clues that something was off. It took him three tries, rather than one, to back his truck into his driveway. His right leg dragged as he walked to his door. He sat outside to avoid his wife, Lynda, because he knew she'd take him to the hospital.

"As soon as I sat down, the Lord told me to get up," he said.

By the time White made it inside and to the couch, he could barely control his movements. He'd lost both his strength and the ability to speak. As he expected, his wife called 911.

White was having a stroke -- a stroke that might have left him with permanent deficits had it happened years ago, said Jeremy Jeffrey, executive director of Mercy Regional Emergency Management Services.

"Twenty-five years ago, he would've eventually ended up on a ventilator, in the ICU, and probably in a nursing facility the rest of his life," Jeffrey said. "Even 10 years ago, he could've been permanently disabled."

But on a recent Wednesday, White was able to thank -- and joke with -- the paramedics who came to his aid that day. He's been attending physical and occupational therapy, and he goes on regular walks at Kentucky Oaks Mall.

"It's beyond words how big a deal it is," Jeffrey said of recent improvements to stroke care.

Baptist Health Paducah and Mercy Regional EMS joined forces earlier this year to shorten treatment times for stroke patients. Baptist helped to equip and train staff at Mercy EMS to draw blood from stroke patients before they arrive at the hospital, cutting 15 to 20 minutes off the time it takes for them to receive treatment, Baptist Health Paducah Neuroscience Coordinator and registered nurse Chapman Offutt said.

Blood work is necessary to determine whether a stroke patient is eligible for a medicine called tPA. Short for tissue plasminogen activator, tPA can treat certain types of strokes by dissolving the blood clots that cause them. It has the potential to reduce the effect of the stroke and lessen the chance of long-term disability if given within three hours of when stroke symptoms first appear.

Several medications and conditions can make it dangerous to give tPA to a patient, however. It's also important to determine blood sugar levels, how well the blood clots and other details before administering tPA, Offutt said.

White ended up being eligible to receive tPA. It took him 44 minutes from the time Lynda called 911 to be treated for his stroke, Offut said.

"This outcome, this is what we strive for," he said.

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