Phoenix woman alive today thanks to new Barrow Mobile Stroke Unit

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(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
'I just think what a miracle it is and how many lives it’s going to save,' stroke survivor LaVon Medina said. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) 'I just think what a miracle it is and how many lives it’s going to save,' stroke survivor LaVon Medina said. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

It was Thanksgiving morning, some seven weeks ago, and LaVon Medina was in her Phoenix kitchen preparing for the holiday meal.

All of the sudden, she felt something happen to her.

Media said she kept repeating, "Something’s happening to me. Something’s happening to me."

Her daughter rushed to her side.

"She looked at me and she started screaming," Medina recalled. "Because I guess my face had fallen. So, she ran to the phone and called the ambulance."

Phoenix Fire Department paramedics were on scene within minutes. But also dispatched to the "possible stroke call," was the Barrow Neurological Mobile Stroke Unit.

The state-of-the-art mobile unit is stocked with specialized equipment designed specifically to diagnose and treat stroke victims.

“It's equipped with imagining, a CT scanner, in particular, and also it acts as an emergency room on-site with specialty equipment and medications and personnel equipped to take care of a stroke,” Dr. Michael Waters, the director of the Barrow Stroke Program, explained.

Waters said the first hour after a stroke is crucial and when treatment is initiated immediately the outcomes are invariably better.

Medina was diagnosed with a stroke and given the only FDA-approved stroke drug, TPA, within 20 minutes of her daughter calling 911. By Friday morning, she was released to a rehabilitation center.

"She had, at 24 hours, some very minor impairment -- much, much reduced, as compared to her presentation by virtue of the quick treatment," Waters said. "But she also was able to get intensive in-patient physical therapy and occupational therapy and speech therapy."

Medina knows first-hand that her outcome is significantly better because of the mobile unit’s response, which has been in operation since October 2017. 

“I can’t say enough about it because I wouldn’t probably be here, I mean, I sure wouldn’t be walking and talking like I am right now,” Medina said.

Medina’s husband of 58 years, Joe, died in 2014 from complications of a stroke he suffered years before. Medina said he improved only slightly over the years with therapy, but not much. When he suffered his stroke, it wasn’t until hours later that he got help.

"This is a critical piece of the chain of stroke care because it allows us to get to the patient and initiate treatment rapidly. We all say in the stroke business that time is brain, and this a mechanism for us to get to the patient and treat them on-site rather than waiting for them to be transported to an emergency room. And every minute counts,” said Waters.

In operation since October, the Barrow Mobile Stroke Unit has a CT scanner, a miniature laboratory and high-tech video and audio equipment so the nurses on board are in constant contact with a doctor who is directing and monitoring the care of the stroke patient. The video and audio setup also allows the doctor to talk directly to the patient and see close-ups of his or her face and pupils, which could prove very helpful in diagnosis and treatment.

“I just think what a miracle it is and how many lives it’s going to save. It’s amazing. Saved my life. I'm one of them,” Medina said.

The Barrow Mobile Stroke Unit is one of only 10 in the country and the only one in the state of Arizona.

“We feel like we're really on the vanguard of stroke [treatment] here and it's exciting for us to be able to bring that to the community of Phoenix," Waters said. "Stroke is a major health issue and for us to be able to bring this asset to stroke care to the city of Phoenix is really exciting. We are learning as we go. We just started in October and we already have data collected for a few hundred patients. And the more we do it, the better we get and better the outcomes that we hope to affect.

After a shaky start to the 2017 holidays, Medina was well enough and mobile enough to enjoy the rest of the season celebrating with her family. 

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Donna RossiEmmy Award-winning reporter Donna Rossi joined CBS 5 News in September 1994.

Click to learn more about Donna.

Donna Rossi

In that time, Donna has covered some of the most high-profile stories in the Valley and across the state. Donna's experience as a four-year veteran of the Phoenix Police Department gives her a keen sense of crime and court stories. She offered gavel to gavel coverage of the 1999 sleepwalking murder trial of Scott Falater, and the trial and conviction of retired Catholic Bishop Thomas O'Brien for a fatal hit and run accident. She also spent 2 straight weeks in northeastern Arizona in the summer of 2011 covering the Wallow Fire, the largest wildfire in Arizona history.

Donna's reputation as a fair and accurate journalist has earned her the respect of her colleagues and community. Her talent as a reporter has earned her more than a dozen Arizona Associated Press Awards and five Emmy statue.

Donna previously worked as an anchor and reporter in Tucson and got her start in broadcast journalism in Flagstaff. Donna is a past president of the Rocky Mountain Southwest Chapter of the National Academy of Arts and Sciences and currently serves on the NATAS board. She is a member of IFP/Phoenix, a non-profit organization of local film and documentary makers.

Donna was born in New York and moved to the Valley with her family when she was 9 years old. She is a graduate of Maryvale High School and attended Arizona State University. She graduated cum laude from Northern Arizona University.

In her free time, Donna enjoys boating on Bartlett Lake, all forms of music and theatre. Donna frequently donates her time to speak to community organizations and emcee their events. She is a past board member of DUET, a non-profit which helps promote health and well-being for older adults. Donna also loves donating her time to youth organizations and groups who work to secure and safeguard human rights.

On Oct. 17, 2015, Donna was honored for her amazing work over the years. The Rocky Mountain Chapter of the National Academy of Televisions Arts and Sciences inducted her into its Silver Circle. It's one of the organization's most prestigious honors for which only a few candidates are selected each year.

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