Until now the only way to reverse the paralyzing effects of a severe stroke was to administer a clot-busting drug, tissue plasminogen activator (T-PA), within three hours.
But The Early Show's Health Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay reports there is now a new drug being tested that may be able to double the window of opportunity.
"Less than 2 percent of stroke patients now get intravenous T-PA mainly because they just don't get to the hospital on time," says neurologist Anthony Furlan of the Cleveland Clinic.
Dr. Furlan has been playing a leadership role in a study to see if an experimental clot-busting drug, Pro-UK (prourokinase), could help stroke victims beyond the three-hour limit when T-PA is no longer effective.
"Perhaps the major finding...is that the window is not stuck at three hours now; we've opened the window out to at least six hours," he explains.
Julie Leibold was a prime candidate for the drug when a stroke completely paralyzed her left side.
"I went to get out of bed and I fell. I actually fell out of bed and hit my head on the wall, and I lay there not realizing that I couldn't get up," Leibold recalls.
She had to be airlifted to Cleveland from her small town hospital 50 miles away. Only in her 30s, she readily agreed to receive Pro-UK.
"I said yes because I have too many years to live and too much life to live yet," she explains.
And the benefits were almost immediate and long lasting.
"They were administering the drug to me, and I told the nurse, I said 'I can feel my fingers.' And that was really a great feeling because, I mean, I was going to be OK then," she says.
"When patients were studied three months after treatment with Pro-UK, the clot-dissolving drug, vs. a control group that did not receive the drug, 40 percent of the treated patients were functionally independent. They were able to go back to work, drive a car, do their normal daily activities," explains Dr. Furlan.
"I'm back to work full time; I'm very active with my family," says Leibold. "I think that I would have had long rehabilitation, and with this drug I only had six weeks of minimal rehabilitation. I think the experimental drug made all the difference in the world," she adds.
Pro-UK has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration yet. And it must be given in an artery, not in a vein as T-PA now is. That requires a special surgical team, something that most hospitals do not have.
For more information on stroke and who is at risk, visit the American Medical Association or the National Stroke Association Web sites.
©MMII CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed