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Transient Ischemic Attack: Ticking Time Bomb or Second Chance

Mildred Thomas views CT Scans of her brain with Dr. Prachi Mehndiratta, VCU Health System.
Mildred Thomas views CT Scans of her brain with Dr. Prachi Mehndiratta, VCU Health System. (Photo: Charles Fishburne)

Each year, 800,000 people have a stroke. It is the fifth leading cause of death and many more are disabled. On today’s Virginia Currents, WCVE’s Charles Fishburne reports on the warning signs and prevention.

Learn More: Read about warning signs an prevention at the American Heart Association.


A few months ago, I was working on a story before the sun came up when my eyes went out of focus, the words I was reading seemed to tumble off the page in random order. Mine was a mini stroke: a transient ischemic attack.

Dr. Warren Felton: Patient at certain risk, about 5% of them, can have a stroke with permanent damage within 48 Hours of suffering a TIA.

Dr. Warren Felton is Medical Director of the VCU Comprehensive Stroke Center.

Felton: [It] requires very rapid evaluation and the emergency department is what we encourage.

(Ambient: Doppler Sounds)

This is the sound of blood running through my carotid arteries, one of many tests that included a CT scan, an MRI and bloodwork. This one revealed some plaque build-up, another slightly high cholesterol.

Dr. David Stein: Very mild, but still there…

My family physician, Dr. David Stein.

Stein: … and enough evidence to say let's do everything we can do to help protect you and try and prevent any progression of this.

For me, it meant a statin drug, 81 milligram aspirin tablet daily and a radical change in diet. It was a wake-up call. And a warning, but for some there is no warning.

Mildred Thomas: I was in the main lobby of the hospital.

Fifty-nine year old Mildred Thomas was there visiting a friend.

Thomas: I looked down on the floor and saw my purse on the floor. So I picked it up, and I didn’t even make a step. I looked down and I saw my purse on the floor again.  And, I picked it up again and at that time I saw people barreling from my peripheral vision from both sides towards me.

In five minutes, she was in the operating room…

Dr. Dennis Rivet: We recognized she needed immediate intervention…

Dr. Dennis Rivet, VCU Department of Neurosurgery.

Rivet: [We] brought a team in and did a surgery to remove a blood clot in one of the large arteries supplying the left side of her brain and prevented her from having a stroke completely, she had a normal MRI scan after that.

Felton: Time is so critical, because we have very limited ability to treat, when someone is having a stroke. 

Had she been somewhere else, that blood clot could have been fatal.

Thomas: I was in the right place at the right time.

She is better, much better. 

Thomas: Hi Doctor Mehndiratta!

Dr. Prachi Mehndiratta was a member of the team from the beginning.

Dr. Prachi Mehndiratta: She is doing fantastically well, completely normal.

We went to lunch afterwards and shared stories.

Thomas: I try to stay away from fried foods.

And red meat, most bread, sugar.  Our doctors tell us you don’t have to be perfect and you can splurge.

Thomas: This vegetable aisle right here, this looks great!

Our experiences have launched an entirely different lifestyle. We were fortunate. But the American Stroke Association says stokes are the 5th leading cause of death in the United States and someone in this country has a stroke every 40 seconds. Advocates have developed the FAST campaign, to raise awareness of warning signs. Dr. Felton spells it out.

Felton: Act Fast. Remember face, arm speech and time.

He and the other doctors we spoke with, with emphatic about the time element.

Rivet: Get help, immediate help, because time is absolutely of the essence.

For Virginia Currents, I’m Charles Fishburne, WCVE News.