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Area farmer calls attention to stroke month

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Bruce Schmoll is back at work on his family’s farm near Claremont after suffering a stroke in March.
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On a Thursday morning, March 22, around 6:20, Bruce Schmoll was up early for an ice fishing trip to Winona.

Bruce, 64, is a farmer based a little south of Claremont. Tarrie Schmoll, his wife, was getting ready for work just a little ways away.

Bruce, who is left-handed, picked up his electric shaver.

"It fell out of my hand and I noticed my hand wasn’t working," he said.

The razor fell, and Bruce leaned over to get it, falling onto the floor after it.

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Tarrie, a patient facilitator for Mayo Clinic, saw him slide to the floor and checked on him.

Right away, she noticed the obvious signs of a stroke — his face "drooped" on one side, his speech was slurred, and his left hand and arm weren’t working properly.

"Luckily — or maybe it was unlucky, I don’t know — Bruce had every symptom you read about," Tarrie said. "You always wonder, ‘Will I know?’ But these signs weren’t subtle."

She called 911 right away.

Bruce was determined to get up, he said. He moved into the bedroom and wanted to go down the stairs to meet the ambulance.

"She insisted that I stay up there," he said.

Around 20 minutes later, Bruce was racing to the hospital in an ambulance. Tarrie followed in her car once she’d gotten her shoes on.

Quick treatment

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She arrived at the hospital as Bruce was being taken for a CT scan, which confirmed that he had a blood clot blocking a vessel in his brain.

Tarrie gave permission for the doctors to treat him. "I said, ‘Yes, do everything,’" she said.

The doctors administered a clot-buster medicine via an IV in Bruce’s hand, then told him they would have to do a thrombectomy, or mechanical clot retrieval.

Bruce had a blockage stroke, caused by the abrupt blockage of the artery.

Clot-buster medication is the usual treatment for an acute stroke, or one that’s detected and treated within a few hours, said Eugene Scharf, a neurologist at Mayo Clinic who helped treat Bruce.

"They explained that they were going to put a catheter in my groin area and thread that all the way up to the side of my head," Bruce said.

The catheter was attached to a device that trapped the clot and removed it.

Within about three hours, from phone call to procedure, the clot was gone.

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The quick treatment, Scharf said, is ideal when treating stroke patients, Scharf said.

"It’s the way you hope things will go," he said.

No warning signs

Tarrie stayed in the family waiting room during the procedure, then met Bruce in the ICU.

"I could see him, and he was able to talk to me," she said. "He had a little more healing to go, but I could see that things were going to be positive for us."

The couple was lucky to live so close to Mayo Clinic, they said, and that Bruce could be treated quickly.

And as May is American Stroke Month, Bruce is speaking out about his experience.

Bruce spent about three days in Saint Marys hospital.

He recovered so well, Tarrie said, that he was dismissed early with only outpatient testing to complete.

The only casualty from the trip, Bruce said, was a "kind of expensive" long-sleeved, insulated shirt he’d worn in preparation for the trip, which was cut off him.

Bruce has no family history of strokes, and does not have an irregular heartbeat, high cholesterol, diabetes, or a smoking habit. In fact, he’s active in the Rochester Senior softball program, and takes regular wilderness canoe trips.

Just a few days prior, he’d been to a check-up with his cardiologist, with whom he meets once a year after suffering a heart attack 11 years ago.

No warning signs

There had been no signs that a stroke was imminent.

He advised people — especially those at risk — to know the signs of a stroke and call for help as soon as possible if they experienced them.

"It’s my understanding that the sooner you get medical attention, the better off you are," Bruce said.

That’s true, Scharf said — when a blood vessel is blocked, a stroke patient can lose two million neurons a minute.

"I’m usually pretty health-conscious, I take good care of myself, so it’s frustrating for this to happen," Bruce said.

But after several weeks of monitoring his heart rate, the farmer was ready to put the incident behind him and take advantage of the warmer weather.

"I’m just anxious to get back to work," he said.

May is Stroke Awareness Month. Here are some ways to recognize the signs of a stroke.

Remember FAST: Face, Arm, Speech, Time. If part of the face won’t move, if an arm or hand stops working, or speech is slurred, call 911 ASAP.

Pay attention to irregularities: Sudden dizziness, spacing out suddenly, blurry vision, or double vision can also be signs of a stroke. If you suddenly experience changes in perception or processing ability, that can be a sign to call 911.

Know the risks: Certain demographics, especially people who smoke, have high cholesterol or blood pressure, have an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) or cardiac disease, are at higher risk for strokes.

Prevent an attack: It’s better, Scharf said, to avoid a stroke than to treat it after the fact. Being active, treating high blood pressure and cholesterol, and generally staying healthy reduce one's risk of stroke.

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Dr. Eugene L. Scharf, a neurologist

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