During a regular meeting of the Southern Pines Town Council on Wednesday, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything out of the ordinary. Discussion went around the table on a number of items, including a report on long-range planning priorities.
What was most remarkable, however, will be easily overlooked in the official meeting minutes: the presence of Councilman Mitch Lancaster.
Three day prior, Lancaster, 45, suffered what his doctors have termed an “aborted stroke,” and he spent two days recovering in the I.C.U. at Moore Regional Hospital, FirstHealth of the Carolinas flagship facility.
“That I was having a stroke never popped into my mind until I heard the doctor say the word,” he said, in a phone interview with The Pilot a few hours before he attended the Wednesday meeting.
Lancaster had risen early on Sunday morning, Feb. 2, because he had volunteered to usher at his family’s place of worship, Christ Community Church on U.S. 15-501 in Pinehurst.
“I started to feel a little weird. There was numbness in my cheek, my leg, and hand was numb,” he said. “My pastor came up and I missed his hand trying to shake it.”
When his wife Erin arrived, he described to her how he was feeling. Lancaster said he just wanted to go sit down and shake it off, but she insisted that he get in their car.
Moore Regional is less than two miles away, and in the same direction the family had to travel to go home.
Lancaster said he was still debating whether he should go to the hospital when Erin asked if he could even still speak.
“I tried to say, “sure,” just to prove I could get the words out, and I couldn’t,” Lancaster said, noting that his wife already suspected what he could not wrap his mind around.
When they pulled up to the emergency room doors, he said it was like what you see in the movies with a “thousand people all running around.”
“The doctor was great and she asked me a lot of questions. I was aware but I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t verbalize anything,” he said.
Lancaster was taken back for a CT scan and then given the one drug approved by the Food & Drug Administration for treatment of acute ischemic stroke: tissue plasminogen activator, or tPA.
The clot-busting drug is given intravenously to improve blood flow to the part of the brain being deprived of oxygen. It is recommended and most effective when given within three hours from the onset of stroke symptoms.
“It worked and it worked fast. Maybe within an hour, I could speak,” said Lancaster.
“I am fortunate that I have a wife who wouldn’t take no for an answer, and that we could get to the hospital quick,” he added. “I really just wanted to go sit down somewhere. If I had done that, I might be in a very different place today.”
Stroke is the nation’s fifth leading cause of death and a leading cause of serious long-term disability. Most stroke patients are over 55 years old, but a stroke can strike people at any age.
Lancaster learned that he has a small hole in his heart which allowed a blood clot to escape into his bloodstream, ultimately leading to his near miss on Sunday. Since he has no lasting damage from the incident, the doctors termed it an “aborted stroke,” but Lancaster said he will soon have minor surgery on his heart to prevent any potential recurrence.
Also patients like him who arrive at the emergency room within three hours of the onset of symptoms, often have less disability after a stroke than those who received delayed care.
FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital is a primary stroke center, with a dedicated stroke-focused program and highly trained team.
“The most important thing to understand is that time is brain,” said Dr. Melanie Blacker, a FirstHealth neurologist and neurohospitalist, in an interview with The Pilot last May.
A big misperception with stroke is because it does not cause pain, that it is not at the same level of emergency as a heart attack.
“People think they can rest and it will get better. What they potentially miss is the window of opportunity for treatment,” Blacker said. “Right now everything is time-based, but we hope in the future it will be based on imaging results and salvageable brain tissue.”
According to Blacker, while advanced age is a significant risk factor for stroke, for others there are modifiable factors that can minimize the chance of stroke such as controlling high blood pressure, high cholesterol, losing weight if obese, and stopping smoking.
Blacker said people may not be aware they are having a stroke, especially if they live alone. Others will first experience a transient ischemic attack, meaning they have stroke symptoms that come and go. That is a big warning sign that should not be ignored, she added.
“If you are having any stroke symptoms, even if the symptoms have resolved, you should still call 911. EMS will encourage you to come in for treatment and it will give us an opportunity to figure out why that happened,” Blacker said. “We don’t want to miss the window for potential treatment options.”
To learn more, visit FirstHealth’s stroke education information site at https://www.firsthealth.org/reference/patient-education/stroke-education