Selfie saves Fraser woman's life

September 11, 2018  21:00

Juanita Branch displays the selfie that showed her that she was experiencing the symptoms of a stroke, facial drooping.

Photo courtesy of Henry Ford Macomb hospital.

What do you see when you take a selfie?

It could save your life; just ask Juanita Branch of Fraser.

After rising out of bed and doing her hair on the morning of Aug. 13, the 63-year-old senior decided it was a good day for a selfie.

"I do it once in a blue moon for my Facebook page," Branch said. "I can't remember the last time I took one, maybe a year ago."

As luck would have it this was one of those blue moon days and after taking the photo Branch noticed she was not looking like herself. Her lips were twisted and her face was drooping, both sure signs of a stroke.

She knew this to be so, having had a mini stroke two years earlier and being well aware of the symptoms.

"A lot of people think it hurts when you have a stroke but it doesn't," she said. "When you see symptoms you need to call someone right away."

Suspecting the worst, Branch called for help in her senior apartment complex. She also managed to unlock the front door and even attempted to change her outfit but she began to lose her balance.

By the time help arrived her speech was slurred.

She was then transported by ambulance to Henry Ford Macomb Hospital, where she was greeted by Dr. Jason Muir, an emergency room physician and the hospital's stroke champion, responsible for reviewing and sharing best stroke treatment practices.

"We asked Juanita what she had been doing when she began to notice symptoms," said Dr. Muir, who attended the hospital's press conference celebrating Branch's remarkable story Wednesday.

"I told him I was taking a selfie," she said, smiling for the cameras and sporting a can-you-believe it kind of expression.

"From the time stamp on her selfie photos, we were able to determine that Juanita was within the 4-hour window to receive the clot-busting drug tPA," Muir said.

The drug has been around for a while but cannot be used in all cases due to the window of opportunity available. Given too late, it can cause bleeding on the brain. Thanks to stroke awareness, ER physicians are seeing patients earlier, when it can be given and when it's crucial.

In cases where the drug cannot be used and a clot remains, physicians at Henry Ford have also been able to use neurointervention and clot retrieval. This is a new technique, in which neurointerventionalists insert catheters into the brain and remove the stroke-causing clots, often before the patient suffers irreversible damage.

During a stroke, the brain loses seven million neurons a minute. When brain cells die, permanent damage can occur, so there is no time to lose in seeking medical treatment.

Henry Ford Macomb emergency room physician Dr. Jason Muir, poses with his patient and star of Wednesday's press conference, Juanita Branch, 63, of Fraser.

"This is the first time I've ever had something like this happen," Muir said. "It's usually a family member or someone else who notices the symptoms."

Never before has he had a patient catch their symptoms on a selfie, and while Branch's story is rare, on average, someone suffers a stroke every 45 seconds, and someone dies of a stroke every three minutes, according to the American Heart Association.

Another factor that contributed to Branch's recovery was her knowledge of the symptoms, which she advises everyone to become familiar with.

To help remember, doctors recommend using the acronym FAST:

Face: Check for drooping or contortion of the face or lips

Arms: Raise both arms; one may sink lower if experiencing a stroke

Speech: Listen for slurred or confused speech

Time: Call for help immediately if a stroke is suspected. Earlier treatment can mean better outcomes

"If I had been sitting on the couch watching television, I might have never realized I was having a stroke," said Branch, who is expected to spend a few more days in the hospital for rehabilitation before returning home.

"She's doing great. Seeing her, now compared to how she was when she came in, she's 100 percent better," said Muir, who said he and his team were grateful to help.

As for Branch she said she's feeling, fantastic, even up to talking about a possible book, "How a selfie saved my life."

"That selfie, literally did save my life," she said.

 

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