Robert Patterson and his wife, Jodi, were working out at a gym in Delafield one Saturday morning in August 2018 when Robert, then 47, had a sudden sense he was about to faint.
“I’ve never fainted in my life, but I was literally going unconscious,” the Hartland resident said. The next thing he knew, he woke up beside the rowing machine, on the gym floor, with Jodi and others looking down at him with concern. Gym staff called paramedics, who arrived and examined him. Robert seemed fine, but paramedics asked him if he wanted to go to the hospital. He considered heading home, but one of his symptoms was troubling.
“I had a huge headache, and I don’t get headaches,” Robert said. So, he made an important decision to go to a nearby hospital to be examined, just in case.
There, he received a CT scan of his head. While waiting for the results, Robert started feeling better, thanks to pain medication that eased his headache. He recalled talking with his wife about where they should go for dinner that night. But their plans changed when the doctor returned with urgent news. The scans showed bleeding in Robert’s brain, likely from a ruptured aneurysm.
The doctor explained that they needed to transfer him immediately to Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Froedtert Hospital. Robert said the doctor told him every minute mattered.
Highest Level of Care
Froedtert Hospital is a Comprehensive Stroke Center, one of only three in Wisconsin, which means it provides the highest level of care available to patients who experience a disruption in the brain’s blood supply.
The father of two was transported swiftly to Froedtert Hospital and admitted immediately to the Neurosciences Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
Robert underwent a cerebral angiogram, a procedure that uses contrast dye and X-ray to examine blood vessels in the brain. It confirmed that Robert did indeed have an aneurysm.
“An aneurysm is a small outpouching or weakened area of a blood vessel in the brain,” said Marc Lazzaro, MD, a neurointerventionalist and medical director of the Comprehensive Stroke Center and Neuro-Interventional Program. Robert’s aneurysm had ruptured and was bleeding into the subarachnoid space, a fluid-filled area around the brain.
“With any type of aneurysm or stroke, time is important because the sooner we can get a patient treated, the more likely we will achieve the best possible outcome for the patient,” Dr. Lazzaro said.
He performed a minimally invasive procedure, making a small incision in Robert’s groin to access the femoral artery, and then threaded a catheter through the artery up into Robert’s brain. The catheter delivered tiny platinum coils into the bulging area of the blood vessel, shoring it up and closing it off to future blood flow.
Robert spent the next two weeks in the NICU where he was observed closely for signs of additional distress. Nurses visited his room hourly to check for changes in his speech or ability to move his body. Robert said Jodi and his care team were especially compassionate as he experienced “horrific headaches” as he recovered.
“The NICU nurses and doctors are nice, accommodating, professional and technically proficient, and they helped me get through it,” Robert said. The pain decreased as the days passed, and when images of his brain showed no signs of bleeding or stroke, he returned home. In a few weeks, he resumed his job as a retail executive.
Healthy Lifestyle Assists Recovery
Reflecting on his experience, Robert also gives credit to his long-time primary care physician, Douglas Marx, DO, who he has seen for almost 20 years at the Froedtert & MCW Germantown Health Center. During an annual checkup several years ago, Dr. Marx urged Robert to get serious about exercise.
“Dr. Marx said, ‘You work at a desk job, and you’re getting older; your metabolism’s not what it used to be,’” Robert said. That conversation prompted him to start seeing a personal trainer regularly. He and his doctors suspect that his good health at the time of the aneurysm may have aided his remarkable recovery.
During a follow-up visit with Dr. Marx, Robert and Jodi talked about the intense experience. “I’m very at ease with him,” Robert said. “I can tell him anything and share everything.”
Dr. Lazzaro will also monitor Robert in the years ahead, doing imaging to confirm that the blood vessels in his brain remain healthy.
“Going to Froedtert Hospital was a lifesaving decision,” Robert said.