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Surviving the Unthinkable: One Man's Journey Through Three Strokes

May 22, 2024

Ken M. is a mixed-media artist specializing in jewelry, a former art professor, and father of two teenagers. He started most of his days nestled on the couch checking email. But on this particular morning in August 2023, he noticed that his right arm seemed to have stopped working. It simply wouldn’t move. That’s when Ken and his wife Ellen raced across town to Morristown Medical Center with grave concerns.

Initially, Ken thought he was experiencing a transient ischemic attack — warning signs of a future stroke to come. But when his symptoms didn’t resolve within a few minutes, it was clear he was having a full-on stroke — the first of three he would have over the next few days.

“When I tried to use my right arm and it wouldn’t move, I knew something was terribly wrong,” says Ken. “So, I woke up my wife and we ruled out every possibility, with the exception of stroke. That’s when we got nervous and very scared.”

L to R: Ken M,; SICU nurse Angeline Ouano, RN; Kyle Chapple, MD, neurosurgeon

Ken M. (left) attended a ceremony where his medical team, represented by neurologist Kyle Chappe, MD, and intensive care nurse Angeline Ouano, RN, were recognized for their extraordinary stroke care.

Putting Lifesaving Care Into Action

“Stroke affects the blood vessels to the brain,” says Kyle Chapple, MD, a neurosurgeon at Atlantic Health System. “Ken’s CT scan showed he was having an ischemic stroke, so our team administered clot-busting medication and performed a thrombectomy to remove the clots and restore blood flow to his brain.”

The procedure was a success and Ken was moved to the surgical intensive care unit to recover. But hours later, something unusual happened — a second stroke. One seasoned nurse, Angeline Ouano, RN, noticed it right away when Ken’s face began to droop, and his speech turned to gibberish. Seeing the fear in Ken’s eyes, Angeline took matters into her own hands and personally delivered Ken for another CT scan, which resulted in a second lifesaving thrombectomy.

When Fear Sets in

“I remember being wheeled in for that second CAT scan and being fully aware that I still couldn’t move my right arm, my words were coming out garbled, and I was losing sensitivity in my right leg. It was all so concerning, and I knew it was very serious.”

The same treatments worked for a second time and Ken’s symptoms began to subside. He moved from the surgical intensive care team to a step-down neurology team, when the unthinkable happened yet again, just a few days later. Ken suffered a third stroke.

“Ken’s third stroke was relatively mild and resolved without major interventions,” says Dr. Chapple. “We gave him a high dose of midodrine to keep his blood pressure elevated. This perfusion of oxygen into his cerebral tissue helped his symptoms quickly improve.”

Where Were the Risk Factors?

Ken had none of the traditional factors that would put him at high risk for stroke. At 60 years old, he was in good physical shape, didn’t smoke, had low blood pressure and a normal body mass index (BMI). And he saw his primary care doctor regularly.

“It was a very strange series of problems, having two strokes, still recovering from those, and having a third stroke,” says Ken. “It really compounded my problems and caused me to relapse.”

Despite the setbacks, Ken fought on and his recovery inched ahead. He progressed to the Atlantic Rehabilitation Institute for two weeks of intensive physical therapy, occupational therapy, and treatment for speech and cognition. His neurologist and vascular neurosurgeon also stayed engaged in Ken’s progress.

Looking Toward the Future With Hope

Although Ken’s long-term memory hasn’t been affected, his short-term recall and ability to work with numbers or follow instructions are still a challenge. He also continues to have limitations using his right hand. But none of this is uncommon, according to his doctors.

“I'm learning patience and humility,” says Ken, “My doctors say that abilities frequently improve over time, and I’m still well within the first year of healing so I’m hopeful. I’ve been a professor for 30 years and my goal is to get back into the studio to teach, paint and make jewelry.”

Gratitude Comes in Many Forms

Ken credits his neurosurgeons Dr. Chapple and Ronald Benitez, MD, along with nurse Angeline, and the entire emergency and neurology teams for saving his life. He lauds the hospital nurses for their attentiveness and caring. He even praises the food and nutrition folks for serving up delicious, nutritious meals. And, he thanks his therapists who continue to support his recovery.

“This has been life-changing, not just for me but also for my family,” says Ken, whose eldest son just graduated from Morristown High School. “I feel lucky to be alive — and to live in Morristown, just minutes away from this exceptional hospital with such wonderful caregivers. It really gives me peace of mind.”

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