Health Check: New unit for Stroke Center at Rhode Island Hospital

It's been a few months since John Tamburro, at the insistence of his wife Karen, made a trip to the emergency department at Rhode Island Hospital.

Aside from the day he was born, he said he'd never been in the hospital.

What led to the visit were symptoms that started suddenly on Aug. 14 as he was waking up.

"The focus on my digital clock was out of whack. I couldn't see it," Tamburro said.

He said he went downstairs and tried to read the newspaper. Nothing made sense.

"I thought it was my eyes and so I finally went upstairs told my wife I need to make an eye doctor appointment and she said, 'No, you're having a stroke,'" Tamburro said.

"He went to the emergency department with vision changes that had completely resolved upon his arrival," said Gino Paolucci, nurse practioner at Rhode Island Hospital. "However we were astute enough to admit him to the TIA unit recognizing that there was a potential this was a stroke with resolved symptoms."

Paolucci said a TIA is a transient ischemic attack.

"It's a mimic of a stroke and it portends risk of future stroke," he said.

In March, Rhode Island Hospital set up a TIA unit within its stroke center.

"About 20 percent of the patients that come in with a suspected TIA with resolved symptoms are actually having a silent stroke. And so it's been very important for us to detect those strokes so we can maximize our ability to prevent a recurrence," said Dr. Matthew Siket of Rhode Island Hospital.

It turned out that Tamburro had a silent stroke.

After 24 hours in the TIA unit, Tamburro was sent home with a heart monitor after doctors discovered he had a heart rhythm disorder.

"And so now they have the cause of what may have caused my stroke. And now I'm on medication," he said.

Since the new TIA observation unit first opened, Rhode Island Hospital has seen 120 patients.