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Brain Power: Learning the Lesson of President Ford's Case

Aired August 3, 2000 - 2:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: We have told that former President Ford is recovering nicely from the small stroke he suffered. His prognosis is good, and doctors say there's a lesson in President Ford's case for all of us to have possible stroke symptoms thoroughly checked, even though they can sometimes pass for much less serious conditions.

Here's CNN medical correspondent Rhonda Rowland.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RHONDA ROWLAND, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Dizziness, sinus and ear pain, the symptoms that initially sent President Gerald Ford to the hospital. They are signs of a possible stroke, but doctors say that can be mistaken for an ear infection; apparently the case with Ford.

DR. OWEN SAMUELS, STROKE NEUROLOGIST, EMORY UNIV.: If other symptoms were occurring, like slurred speech, double vision, loss of vision, the diagnosis of stroke would be higher on the list than would have been made.

ROWLAND: If stroke is suspected, the first step is a neurological exam, and then a CT, or CAT-Scan. It is done to quickly rule out a stroke, due to bleeding in the brain, the more serious type of stroke that Senator Paul Coverdell died of last month. But the more common type of stroke, the type doctors say President Ford suffered is due to a blood clot or narrowed arteries.

Here the CAT-Scan has limitations.

DR. DAVID OWENS, INTERVENTIONAL NEURORADIOLOGIST: On a CAT-Scan within 24 to 48 hours, you have got a window where you really don't see much of a change, if any change at all. And that is why we tend to go more and more with MRI.

ROWLAND: MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, can detect stroke almost immediately. Ford's doctors say he was given an MRI Wednesday, during his second visit to the hospital.

If patients with strokes due to a blood clot are diagnosed within three hours of the stroke, doctors can safely administer a clot- busting drug like TPA to restore blood flow to the brain.

SAMUELS: The more directed approach is actually taking a catheter and administering the TPA directly into that artery. That is a more selective way to do it. That can be given within six hours.

ROWLAND: The former president's symptoms may not have been severe enough to warrant TPA, but his doctors say he was given two common blood-thinning drugs to help avoid another, more devastating stroke.

(on camera): President Ford's diagnosis once again points out the importance of seeking medical attention, as soon as you experience possible signs of a stroke, they include, as in his case, dizziness and headache, as well as slurred speech, sudden numbness or weakness or difficulty walking.

Rhonda Rowland, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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