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Hero dog alerts spouse to help Albert Lea man

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Larry Lee suffered a stroke while out walking with his dog Dee, a Labrador retriever mix, in October. Dee ran back to the house barking for Larry's wife Pat. Dee then led Pat back to where Larry had fallen in some tall grass behind their Albert Lea home.
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In early October, Larry Lee, 74, went for his early-morning walk in Albert Lea while his wife, Pat, was still dozing — and may never have returned if it hadn't been for their 2-year-old yellow Labrador.

Pat heard the dog, Dee, start barking. But she figured, at first, that one of the neighbors' dogs must be outside.

"Then she started barking so loud! I got up and looked out on the deck," she said.

Their dog was there, but not her husband — he was near the tree line of their property, unable to yell for help because he was having a stroke.

Larry later told his wife, "it was just like quicksand … nothing was working. I couldn't get to my cell phone or anything."

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"Oh, my gosh," Pat thought when she saw their dog. "'Where is he?' I did think something might have happened to him." That's because he's had two knee replacements, so she thought maybe he'd stumbled and crooked his knee.

She went out to their dog, which they got from an animal rescue shelter, still in her PJs.

"I unleashed her and I said, 'Go find Larry!'" Pat said. "As soon as I unleashed her, she went right to where he was at — and she kept barking at him." He was conscious, but could not move or speak.

Larry survived and continues speech and swallowing therapy today, regaining much from the damage that was done, such as limitation of arm movement.

Mayo Clinic's telestroke system also played a key role in Larry's survival. He was taken to Albert Lea's Mayo Clinic Health System site and connected by telemedicine video screen to a neurologist at Mayo Clinic Hospital in Rochester.

Pat said she didn't remember talking to a neurologist in Albert Lea — the local medical center doesn't have one. But then she said, "Oh! I do remember that there was a doctor on a screen. That was at our emergency room here in Albert Lea. I do remember seeing her on the screen there."

Telestroke allows specialists to remotely connect with rural hospitals that don't have the patient volume to justify keeping specialists on staff around the clock. It was a system first started by Mayo Clinic in Arizona.

Mayo now has telestroke coverage in parts of Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Arizona, New Hampshire and Missouri. Specialists at high-level medical centers can see real-time images of CT scans taken at rural community hospitals, talk with the patient and family and gauge the need for clot-busting drugs and transportation to a higher level of care.

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Once Larry's blood pressure was brought down enough — which posed a significant risk that he might not be able to take the clot-busting medicine in time — he began receiving therapy, even before a medical helicopter took him to Rochester.

A loving spouse, first responders, the local hospital, an air ambulance, Mayo Clinic Hospital — and a devoted dog named Dee — saved Larry's life that day.

These days, "when I see him look at (Dee), he thinks in his mind that I could have been out for coffee that morning," Pat said.

Dr. Robert D. Brown Jr., division chair for stroke and cerbriovascular disease, said telestroke allows collaborative decisions to be made about whether a patient might need clot-busting drugs or a procedure that can only be done by an interventional neuroradiologist at select medical centers around the country like Mayo.

When you or a loved one has stroke symptoms, seek medical care immediately, even if you live in a rural area, Brown said. Symptoms are abbreviated as F-A-S-T: Facial drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty means it's Time to call 911.

The proportion of people who receive appropriate clot-busting drugs right in their own community increases when a rural community hospital is covered by telestroke, Brown said.

"I don't know how it would have turned out if that dog hadn't kept on me to get going," Pat Lee said. "We don't realize that these animals can take care of us!"

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