AR Saves: UAMS Program Aimed at Stroke Survival

YELL COUNTY, Ark. - Stroke is a leading cause of death in the Natural State, according to the Arkansas Department of Health. 

When you suffer from a stoke every second counts. One program through UAMS is making it so more patients across the state can be seen by a neurologist no matter where they live. 

Tom Berryhill has given countless hours of his life to helping others. He's a former fire chief in Yell County, a member of the Yell County Mounted Patrol, and a reserve deputy with the sheriff's office. 

He is also a stroke survivor. 

"I'm not back to who I used to be. I think what you have to realize is that you'll never be back to who you used to be. You're going to be somebody different," Berryhill said. 

He says when he had his stroke he was transported to an "AR Saves" hospital in Russellville. 

Within minutes he was virtually connected by a computer with a neurologist that was more than an hour away. 

"They logged in and he's there talking to me and he starts a head-to-toe neurological assessment," Berryhill said. 

For the last decade, AR Saves links patients across the entire state of Arkansas with a subspecialist. Those types of doctors aren't common and can't be in all areas. But, with this program they are with technology. 

"Prior to the initiation of this program, rarely did anyone get treated because you needed to have someone come into the smaller hospitals," UAMS Center for Distance Health Medical Director Dr. Curtis Lowery said. 

Dr. Lowery says less people have died from stroke related complications. 

"Since we've started Arkansas Saves, we were the worse state. Now we have moved up 6 states. Mostly because of this program," Dr. Lowery said.  

How it works: When someone has stoke symptoms nurses at AR Saves hospitals contact the call center at UAMS. A telemedic, like Christine Fells, brings the doctor and patient together. 

"Our neurologist gets on camera and we're basically doing a three-way on video," Fells said. 

The neurologist determines the proper course of action. 

"You can get the care that you need within minutes," she said. 

Fells says she's proud to be sitting behind this desk, but it's more than just work for her. 

"My grandmother, she passed away from complications from a stroke and my dad did as well. I think this is something that just fell in my lap. I wasn't even looking for a job, and this job fell in my lap and I said this is meant for me. I am meant to be here," Fells said. 

Fells is helping save countless lives in memory of her own father. 

"I know he's proud of me," Fells said. 

It's allowing people like Tom Berryhill to get back to normalcy. 

Since his stroke, he's even fighting fires in rural Arkansas again. 

"To see that we have advanced that far so that I've got the same quality of medical care available of someone who lives one block away from UAMS, which is a great teaching hospital, a premiere hospital in the country, that I've got that here in Dardanelle, Arkansas. That's just amazing," Berryhill said. 

He's still in recovery, but credits where he is now to AR Saves. A program that saved his life. 

Since the beginning of AR Saves ten years ago, 5,300 patients in Arkansas who have had stoke symptoms have been able to be virtually seen by a neurologist. 

By this time next year, the program hopes to be in every hospital in the state. 

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