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Stroke protocol, fast action and great care keep a vital team member from missing a beat

By Chris Langrill, News and Community
July 31, 2019

Mike Birkinbine, supply chain manager at St. Luke’s McCall Medical Center, recently learned firsthand the difference that fast – or more precisely, F.A.S.T. – really makes.

F.A.S.T. summarizes one of the American Stroke Association’s main messages. The letters form an acronym for Face drooping? Arm weakness? Speech slurred or hard to understand? Time to call 911.  

All of which pretty much happened for and to Birkinbine recently, but thanks to a quick response from a fellow staff member and the combined efforts of the St. Luke’s team in McCall, Boise and points in between, he barely broke stride.

Birkinbine’s stroke occurred on June 5, what he thought was going to be a normal, if busy, Wednesday.

“Every morning at 9:45, we have a huddle… during the huddle I was talking to the finance director,” Birkinbine said. “I could hear him, but I couldn’t understand him. It’s like he was a million miles away, even though he was standing right in front of me.

“I remember just shrugging it off and thinking, ‘It will pass.’”

Tanya Pinard, a supply chain technician who’s worked with Birkinbine for nine years, soon realized that something might be seriously wrong. To her, he seemed disoriented. She couldn’t dismiss it.

“He said, ‘I can’t breathe,’” Pinard said. “I said, ‘OK, what’s going on?’ and he said, ‘I don’t know, but my arm really hurts.’”

Pinard thought Birkinbine might be having a heart attack or a stroke. Either way, he needed immediate attention.

“With all the construction going on around us, I wanted to call an ambulance, but he said, ‘No, no, no. Don’t call an ambulance,’” Pinard said. “He actually got up and walked away.”

Pinard insisted Birkinbine needed help. The two started walking to the main hospital building, a block or two away from their office.

“The two of us walking into ER isn’t that unusual,” Pinard said. “The nurse just said, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’

“At that point, he stumbled backward a little, and they all jumped up and got a wheelchair. They were right on it.”

Indeed they were.

“I think it was 10:30 when I presented,” Birkinbine said. “They immediately had me on the table and were treating me.”

He was checked in at St. Luke’s Boise by 12:30 after his transfer by Air St. Luke’s helicopter.

“When I look back at my incident, starting with Tanya … it was incredible. Everybody that I encountered was incredible.”

Because of the chain of action triggered by Pinard’s involvement, Birkinbine’s treatment and recovery time were an unqualified success, and illustrate what’s possible when it comes to modern stroke care in all settings, rural and otherwise.

“That was Wednesday, June 5, when the incident happened,” said Birkinbine, who turned 60 in May. “I was discharged from the hospital on Friday and came back to work on Monday.

“I have no side effects, and I have no recurring complications.”

Birkinbine returned to Boise a week later to attend the St. Luke’s Health System President’s Award banquet, where he was one of 23 exemplary employees recognized for service. Amber Green, St. Luke’s McCall chief operating officer/chief nursing officer, had nominated him for the recognition; here’s what attendees learned about him at the event:

“He comes to work each day with a positive, can-do attitude that is infectious and appreciated. His humility, heart, commitment to patients and the care team and his steady nature make a difference for St. Luke’s and our patients. Every day, in small and large ways, Mike is a hero.”  

His positive attitude is reflected in his gratitude for his team’s speedy, lifesaving response.

“I firmly believe I was in the right place,” he said. “Time is of the essence, and awareness, too.

“I was in the right place and I had the right people.”

About The Author

Chris Langrill is a writer and copy editor for the St. Luke’s Communications and Marketing department.