Littleton Adventist Hospital receives comprehensive stroke center certification

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By Deborah Swearingen

Robert Woods sneezed in the shower and immediately realized something wasn’t right.


“It was a weird sensation. A weird shooting feeling up and down my spine. You know, my neck was getting stiff and then my head started hurting. Like within minutes,” he said.

Woods, 44, of Littleton may not have known yet, but an aneurysm had just ruptured in his brain resulting in a subarachnoid hemorrhage. Fortunately, his wife, Marissa, was home, and she rushed him to nearby Littleton Adventist Hospital. While at the hospital recovering from surgery, Woods had an ischemic stroke — the type people generally think of when they hear about a stroke.

According to Mark Murray, an interventional neurologist at Littleton Adventist, this is fairly common. Bleeding from surgery can cause a stroke, and the more commonly known variety can often be a complication of a subarachnoid hemorrhage. However, although both are risky, the subarachnoid hemorrhage is much more dangerous. This particular type of stroke occurs in the space between the brain and the skull.

“It’s a really serious thing. It’s probably one of the top things we treat in terms of severity in the hospital. Between that and really, really bad trauma,” Murray said.

In the scheme of things, though, Woods was lucky. He lives close to Littleton Adventist and immediately recognized that something was wrong. Months later, after surgery, weeks in the intensive care unit and lots of therapy, Woods is doing fine.

Prior to his aneurysm and stroke, Woods was working 60-plus hour weeks. Now, he says his health and his family are his top two priorities. And he credits the team at Littleton Adventist for his new outlook on life.

Comprehensive stroke center

In October, Littleton Adventist Hospital received the comprehensive stroke center certification from DNV GL Healthcare. The certification is based on standards set by the Brain Attack Coalition and the American Stroke Association.

According to information from DNV, comprehensive stroke centers are often the largest and best-equipped hospitals in a particular geographical area to treat any kind of stroke or stroke complication.

In order to achieve this certification, Murray said Littleton Adventist had to treat a certain number of patients like Woods. Additionally, the hospital is required to have a number of items, including several designated medical specialties, a specific unit to house these patients, and specially trained nurses and therapists. Even the hospital greeters and cafeteria staff are required to have stroke education, he added.

And overall, while it’s vital to have excellent physicians, the strength of everybody else is what makes the hospital successful.

“It’s that nurse and those therapists that are really responsible for how well our patients do,” Murray said. “That’s why we’re a comprehensive stroke center. It’s because of the strength of those people.”

Woods agreed. Without the therapists, he might not be able to walk or talk.

“They are just relentless. Relentless in a good way,” he said.

A new path

Murray spent the first part of his career as a researcher in a lab. But his path changed course after two of his grandparents had strokes and his brother-in-law had bleeding in his brain that caused permanent deficits.

Murray can remember going to the hospital and interacting with doctors who couldn’t explain what was happening in terms that everyone could understand.

“It changed a lot for me,” he said.

Though he already had a Ph.D., the experience affected Murray so much that he went back to school to become a neurologist. Many of his colleagues have similar stories, and Murray would wager it affects service positively.

“There’s a lot of personal touch,” he said. “ … I think that makes a big difference.”

Recognizing the signs

In the case of a stroke, it’s important to know the warning signs and to act fast. To help people recognize the symptoms, the American Stroke Association came up with the FAST acronym. It stands for face drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulty and time to call 911.

If there is any doubt, Murray recommends calling a doctor.

“Time is brain and that’s why we want to get you in fast,” he said.