May 16, 2023
Stroke is one of the leading causes of death and long-term disability worldwide. That’s one reason May — Stroke Awareness Month — is an important time to raise awareness about preventing and treating strokes.
However, it wasn’t long ago that the devastating impact of strokes weren’t in the spotlight. Stroke survivors had few options, and many spent the remainder of their lives unable to walk or talk.
But where some see despair, others see hope.
"Dr. Sachdev has built an incredible legacy through his work in stroke prevention and education,” said Tomi Ryba, President and CEO of Good Samaritan Hospital. "He's helped countless patients rise out of uncertainty and find not just health, but hope, and he's created the possibility of a healthier tomorrow for everyone in San Jose and the surrounding areas. It's been his life's work, and we are deeply grateful for his dedication and tireless efforts."
Long before Dr. Harmeet Sachdev was a neurologist and Stroke Center Director at Good Samaritan Hospital, he was a boy in Punjab, India. At 8-years-old, he was a curious and adventurous child who enjoyed playing with friends and family, including his grandpa. That was until one day, he couldn't.
His grandpa, once a vibrant man, was now chair-bound because of a stroke. He sat still throughout the day, unable to move one side of his body. He also could no longer speak.
“For days, I would just sit on the floor and look at my grandpa, wondering why there wasn’t something that would help him talk again, to live again,” Sachdev said. “That was the start of my journey: A journey to solve the mysteries of the brain.”
His journey led him more than 8,000 miles from home to Stanford's School of Medicine, and soon after graduation, to Good Samaritan in San Jose, CA. It was there he began seeing and treating stroke patients using what were common protocols for the time — aspirin, physical therapy, and blood pressure monitoring. It was an approach that left many patients in nursing homes, and as the years went by, Sachdev remained convinced there was a better way.
On June 30, 1996, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a treatment known as tPA, or tissue plasminogen activator. It was the strongest stroke treatment available at the time. It worked by unclogging arteries in the brain, and if given to patients within hours after a stroke, it significantly increased their chances of not just surviving, but thriving.
Two days after the FDA approval, a 49-year-old stroke patient entered Good Samaritan. He was completely paralyzed on his right side and unable to speak. Although a novel treatment at the time, Sachdev didn’t waste any time and administered tPA. It was the first time a doctor ever used it in a community hospital.
“To see someone completely paralyzed, then deliver medicine and see this person get up and walk and talk again, it was like,” he said with a pause. “It was something like a miracle. And from there, there was no going back.”
Knowing the impact and possibility of the treatment, Sachdev created teams of nurses, Emergency Department physicians, radiologists and other staff. This approach made it possible to quickly administer the clot-busting treatment safely, effectively and at scale, and it led to an improvement in patient outcomes.
Education also played a key role. Sachdev expanded his efforts with courses that taught providers how to administer cardiac life support and stroke care. He helped form the Stroke Awareness Foundation, which supports hospital stroke center certification, paramedics and emergency care training, and community stroke education. He also continues to share his findings in papers and presentations.
His journey has been a successful one. In 2003, Good Samaritan Hospital was the first of five in the country and the first in Santa Clara County to become a Stroke Certified Hospital. And today, stroke care in the San Jose region is among the best in the country. Thanks to Sachdev’s work, patients who suffer from a stroke can receive the care they need in a timely manner, and many are able to make a full recovery.
“There are around 800,000 people in the U.S. who have a stroke every year, including 4,000 here in Santa Clara County,” he said. “But now, with the proper treatment and education, they can walk, talk, and enjoy their life again. And that's my biggest satisfaction: To see a patient smile after overcoming so much change and uncertainty.”
Sachdev is thankful for the staff that has helped Good Samaritan become a proud example of high-quality stroke care for years. “It takes a village to do this important work, and we have amazing staff here who truly know how to and care about making a difference."
He also won’t forget that day he longed to help his grandpa.
“I’m grateful and humbled to share this miracle with others and to help the community, including grandparents, have a better life,” he said. “And I say that with even more meaning,” he laughed. “Because I’m the grandpa now.”