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Breaking News

Fmr. Pres. Ford in Intensive Care After Two Small Strokes

Aired August 2, 2000 - 1:29 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: At Hahnemann hospital, the doctor this morning said this stroke or strokes, there may be two, is affecting circulation at the base of the brain. What's going on with the president?

DR. MICHAEL FRANKEL, EMORY UNIVERSITY: Well, I don't know the specifics of the case. From what you just told me, it sounds like there's been a small amount of damage to the base of his brain that's impairing his balance. And, from this point on, the -- the thing to do is to try to figure out what the cause of the disrupted blood supply is so that you can try to keep it from happening again.

WATERS: So that's what it is, a disrupted blood supply to that area of the brain.

FRANKEL: There are really two kinds of stroke. The most common kind is the kind where there is a loss of blood supply to part of the brain. The other type, which is less common, and that we heard about recently with Senator Coverdell is the kind that causes a hemorrhage inside the brain. Eighty percent or so of strokes are due to the lack of blood supply to part of the brain. And it is possible that that's what President Ford has suffered.

WATERS: So from what you've heard it is a restricted blood supply in President Ford's brain.

FRANKEL: It's possible. We don't know any of the details from what you have described.

WATERS: The first question I had, and I am sure the Fords are asking the same question too, the president was at Hahnemann Hospital last night complaining of what he described as a sinus infection and wax buildup in the ear. And the doctor this morning says that it is sometimes confusing, that you may not be able to tell the difference between what the former president described and actual stroke, would you concur?

FRANKEL: For some cases it can be difficult. And a good example of that is somebody who feels dizzy or off-balance. And of course that can happen for a number of reasons, not just a stroke. An infection in the inner-ear can produce dizziness and off-balance sensations and really has nothing to do with a stroke.

And so it can be difficult, especially early on, in the beginning of symptoms to try to figure out whether or not someone is having a stroke or something more benign.

WATERS: Now this has been described as a small or two small strokes. What is the significance of the word small here in the prognosis? Well, the simple significance is that small strokes are better than large strokes. Small strokes that affect the brain have a much greater likelihood of showing recovery. And so we would hope that, in this case, that that's what we're dealing with.

WATERS: Is this a warning sign that something may be more serious?

FRANKEL: Absolutely. Sometimes the strokes are so small, or the symptoms are so small, that they actually pass after a few minutes. We call those TIAs, or transient ascetic attacks. Those TIAs usually last about 15 or 20 minutes, sometimes 30 minutes, and then they go away.

Strokes occur when there's actually damage to the brain. If it is a small stroke, it is a warning that something is wrong and the doctors need to try to figure out what caused it, so they can provide the right treatment so -- to minimize the risk of having another one.

WATERS: How far along are we in, not only prevention, but treatment of stroke, which I imagine will become a much greater phenomenon as the population ages?

FRANKEL: We've come a long way. The '90s has seen us come from a disease that really had no treatment for its most common form, the 80 percent that have blockages in their blood vessels, to now a single treatment, and possibly more, that can open up blood vessels that are blocked.

The key, though, is recognizing the symptoms of stroke, such as weakness or numbness on one side of the body or difficulty speaking, and seeking medical attention immediately. because the earlier we can intervene, the greater the chance we can...

WATERS: Seeking that medical attention, I imagine you want the very best if something like this is going on. Is there a particular -- I don't know about the Pittsburgh hospitals, but I imagine, if one of my loved ones was involved with stroke, I would want the very best. Should this be checked out? are most hospitals equipped to handle this?

FRANKEL: Many hospitals are equipped to handle it. There are certainly those that haven't yet come up to speed in terms of developing their own systems to deal with people with these acute symptoms.

It is very hard to know which hospital in our communities is equipped to do that. And I think, because this is such a recent development, with new treatment for stroke in the acute stage, that we, in terms of our individual communities and health professionals, need to work together with -- with our emergency medical providers, and try to develop systems that get people to the closest, most appropriate hospital as soon as possible. WATERS: Thanks for helping us understand that. Doctor Michael Frankel, a neurologist at Emory University here in Atlanta, Georgia.

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