Born at Overlook, Saved at Overlook
At just 33 years old, Dan S. was hardly the picture that comes to mind when one thinks of a stroke patient. And yet, on November 11, 2019, that’s exactly what he became.
He woke that morning with a slight headache and hopped in for a shower. “My right hand stopped working; then my right arm stopped working,” he says, recalling the events of that day. “I thought, ‘I should hurry up and shower and get that arm looked at.’” That’s when Dan’s right leg went out from under him. He fell face-first out the glass shower door.
His wife, Katie, heard a thud and called out to make sure Dan was OK. When he tried to answer, there were no words. “That was the moment I learned I could not speak,” he says. “I tried to focus on my vocal cords to make a sound, but … nothing. It was a very helpless feeling.”
“Can You Get Up?”
Those were the words Katie yelled as she entered the bathroom and saw Dan on the floor, his legs in the shower, his torso on a stone step, his head planted on a cushy bathmat. “My love … If I could, I would,” he remembers thinking. Just a few days earlier, Katie had been scrolling through Instagram when she came upon a post about younger people having strokes at parties. She thought back to that and recognized similar signs in Dan. Katie called 911. Within minutes, the police department and EMS were on the scene.
The ambulance ride to Overlook Medical Center was frustrating for Dan; he says he could not speak and, even if he could, he did not know the answers to the questions he was being asked. But along the way, EMS had called ahead to Overlook to activate the hospital’s stroke team. The moment Dan arrived at the emergency department, the team was ready to start working on him.
No Time to Waste
A CT angiogram was performed, with the use of advanced perfusion imaging; it allowed the provider to know the location, size and region of salvageable brain tissue. Time was of utmost importance since over time that “salvageable brain tissue” will be irreversibly damaged. The CTA also revealed a small tear in one of the carotid arteries supplying blood flow to his brain.
“There are many different etiologies of stroke,” says John Hanna, MD, stroke medical director at the Comprehensive Stroke Center at Overlook. “It’s important to understand the cause of stroke. Our goal is to treat the stroke, but also to prevent another one. At Overlook, we have the team, expertise, equipment, and efficiency in place to do this.”
Dan was administered tPA, a powerful intravenous clot buster, which began to clear the blockage in his brain and restore some speech. He then underwent intracranial endovascular neurosurgery.
During the procedure, Kyle Chapple, MD, FAANS, a fellowship-trained endovascular neurosurgeon and stroke specialist, accessed the femoral artery in Dan’s groin. “I deployed a stent to the brain and fully repaired the blockage,” explains Dr. Chapple. “The carotid arteries in the neck deliver blood to the brain. Those arteries have multiple layers. During a carotid dissection, the innermost layers separate from the other layers. This forms a sail, like on a sailboat, where blood collects and creates a blockage that shuts down blood flow.”
Dan recalls that when he woke from surgery, Dr. Chapple was there and asked him a question about the quarterback of his favorite football team, the New York Jets. “My eyes were still closed, but I knew I was alive, and I just knew I could speak. ‘Sam Darnold,’ I answered, and Dr. Chapple gave me a little pat on the face and said, ‘You’ll be fine!’ He was a rock star, and I had a first-row seat.”
Dan spent nine days in the hospital, the first four in Overlook’s Neuroscience ICU. “Patients and families are in critical health situations when they come to us, and it can be a traumatic experience, but this is what we do in the Neuro ICU,” says Igor Ugorec, MD, director of Neurocritical Care at Overlook. “For us, it’s straightforward: We just take care of people.”
One Year Later …
In the months that have followed, Dan has worked hard to overcome lingering side effects of his stroke – namely, subtle speech difficulties pertaining to word finding, word conjugation and word order. (“My brain is working faster than my tongue can keep up,” Dan explains.) He and Katie adopted a dog, Jelly, due in part to the great experience Dan had with a therapy dog while at Overlook.
He is the first person to acknowledge that, at a time when everything in his life suddenly had gone wrong, so much also had gone right: The stroke had not happened a day earlier, while he was driving up I-95; it happened on a day when Katie was home to hear him because she leaves for work just a little bit later on Mondays; it happened on Veterans Day, when traffic was lighter and EMS could get to him and then transport him to Overlook as quickly as possible.
And so it is that the hospital where Dan was born is now the hospital where he has been reborn, the pieces of his life put together by the many doctors and nurses for whom he has unwavering gratitude. “I’m so thankful,” he says. “If it wasn’t for everyone who worked on me – from Dr. Devin Boothe in the ER to Dr. Hanna, Dr. Chapple, Dr. Ugorec and all of the nurses – I wouldn’t be here, and I wouldn’t be doing as well as I am without the excellent job that they did. I’m just so grateful.”
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