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Stroke response team strike a chord with piano teacher

06 December 2015

Health Care

Liz Bagshaw is lucky to be alive after suffering a massive stroke while staying with her brother in Leigh-on-Sea. The massive blood clot in her brain, on any other day, would have probably killed her but thanks to a startling series of coincidences she is here to tell her story.

Normally Liz, 60, would have been alone at her home in a rural village near Bristol. Just 24 hours prior to her stroke she was driving her doctor son to Heathrow airport; then on Saturday 14 November as she was having breakfast with her brother, she started to show the symptoms of a stroke.

She owes her life to him, that she is in no doubt of, and the team of staff at Essex's only hyper acute stroke unit (HASU) at Southend University Hospital. And even Andy Murray had his part to play; Liz is a huge tennis fan and was using her brother's home as a base so that she could go and watch Murray at the ATP World Tour finals in London. He didn't make it through, but Liz did.

Instead she's been listening to his match from her hospital bed as she recuperates after suffering a massive stroke in her brain.

The blood clot measured an immense 2.5 cm, so large in fact that the surgeon who extracted the clot had to break it into four pieces to remove it a chunk at a time.

Liz hero-worshipped her older brother when she was little, there is a six year difference between them, and she's back doing a serious bit of it now as well. She said: "I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Jim, I really can't thank him enough. It's hard not to think of how things could have ended up so very different If I'd been at home alone or driving the car to or from the airport."

Both Liz and Jim's parents both died of strokes and it's been a spectre that has long played on Liz's mind as she approached 60, which as fate would have it she did the week before her stroke. That also just so happened to be the age that her mum died. Jim said: "She'd even said to me, I know I'm going to have a stroke at 60, just like mum. That day though I believe our mum was watching over us."

It may have been unlucky that Liz's 'prophecy' came to pass but it was certainly fantastically lucky that her fast-acting brother and sister-in-law were there to call an ambulance.

Recalling what happened that morning, big brother Jim, said: "We were just sat having breakfast and Liz's face started to drop a little in front of me, I initially thought she was just tired but when I took some dishes to the kitchen she fell down after trying to get up. She had no strength in her legs and I knew it was a stroke right away."

And Liz admits that if she had experienced the same symptoms if she had been all alone then she wouldn't have even thought about calling the ambulance.

Liz's initial recovery has been amazing, considering what the outcome would have most likely been without getting her into hospital in good time, or for the efforts of staff at Southend Hospital using a procedure only used in a handful of hospitals across the UK.

Her stroke consultant was the award-winning, Dr Devesh Sinha, he said: "As a part of our new hyper acute stroke unit (HASU) procedures the ambulance paramedics called the stroke doctor on their mobile whilst she was en route to the ambulance. A team led by a stroke consultant with medical and A&E doctors and nurses were waiting for Liz when she arrived in hospital."

Liz had  all her assessments and brain scan performed within 13 minutes of her coming to Southend and had the thrombectomy (an operation to remove the clot from her brain) procedure within 60 minutes of decision."

Dr Sinha added: "Timing is everything in stroke, from the time Liz's brother called the ambulance to the time it took for Liz's operation it was like race to stop a ticking time bomb. Every second counts, removing the blood clot early saves destruction of more brain cells. With its removal we defused it and Liz is now doing fantastically well."  

The clot was removed by interventional neuroradiologist Professor Iris Grunwald, internationally renowned in her field, by utilising a minimally invasive technique which allowed the removal of the clot directly from the brain.

Crucially for Liz and her family, Southend is the only hospital in Essex to offer this procedure and although there is level 1A (highest level) evidence for this treatment, - due to the complexity and speed required - it is currently only offered in very few centres around the world.

Devesh concluded: "The outcome is rewarding to everyone involved, from Liz, her brother, the ambulance, A&E, the medical team, the radiographer and anaesthetics. Our work prevents people becoming disabled and dependent on health and social care, it's fantastic seeing results like Liz where she is able to do most of the things she was able to do before."

As Liz's brother points out, it's still very early days. There is a long road of physio ahead and also assessing the impact the stroke will have on Liz's life longterm.

Liz's son, who just so happens to be a doctor in Cairns, Australia, didn't get to learn of his mum's condition until he touched down the other side of the world. Liz said: "From what we've told him about my operation he says that I've had world class care, that's him not speaking as my son but speaking as a doctor."

Liz is a keen piano player and even teaches in her spare time so hopefully she'll be able to use tinkling on the ivories as part of her rehabilitation, that would certainly be music to her and her families' ears.

She concluded: "Everyone at Southend's stroke unit has been patient, kind and amazingly up-to-date in this area of medicine, I just can't thank the dedicated staff enough."