July 31, 2021, was a pleasantly warm Saturday without a smidge of rain. In Muskego, Jean Hasler set about making a pasta salad for the block party she and her neighbors were throwing later that day, and then headed out with her husband, Todd, to run a few errands. Little did the couple know that by early evening, Jean would be in the hospital.
“While we were out, we stopped for lunch and when I got up from the table, I felt weird, as if I had been drugged,” Jean said. Later, as they continued their shopping, Todd noticed that one side of Jean’s face was drooping. As Todd did the final errand, Jean rested in the car.
“As I waited, I Googled my symptoms and saw that I could be suffering from an anxiety attack,” she said. “I had been really stressed at work — I’m a business analyst for an insurance company — so I figured that was it.”
But at the block party several hours later, Jean lost her balance and fell. Todd, who had been concerned about her all day, knew she needed medical help. Thankfully, Froedtert Community Hospital — New Berlin, part of the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network, was nearby.
Diagnosing a Stroke
“Facial droop, muscle weakness and coordination issues can all be symptoms of a stroke,” said Morgan Wilbanks, MD, emergency medicine physician and MCW faculty member, who saw Jean when she arrived.
CT scans revealed Jean had indeed suffered an ischemic stroke. According to the American Heart Association, ischemic strokes account for more than 87% of all strokes in the U.S. Such strokes occur when either a blood clot travels from the heart to the brain or when a buildup of plaque in the blood vessels of the brain creates a clot and impedes the flow of oxygen-rich blood.
Ischemic strokes are often treated with a blood thinner known as tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), but the drug must be administered within a specific window. In Jean’s case, too much time had elapsed for her to be safely treated with it. So, within 30 minutes of her arrival, Dr. Wilbanks was in communication with neurologists at the Comprehensive Stroke Center at Froedtert Hospital to arrange for a surgical intervention.
“Within the Froedtert & MCW health network, when I need a consult or if a patient needs to be transferred, it’s easy for me to get in touch with a specialist and get the patient where they need to go,” Dr. Wilbanks said.
Removing the Clot
At Froedtert Hospital, Jean was treated by Christopher Southwood, MD, neurologist and MCW faculty member. To extract the clot in Jean’s brain, Dr. Southwood performed a thrombectomy.
“It’s an X-ray-guided procedure that begins with introducing a catheter into an artery in the leg and then using that artery as a sort of highway along which we direct a special, retrievable stent to the brain to entangle the clot and withdraw it,” Dr. Southwood said.
After thorough postoperative testing, Dr. Southwood determined Jean’s stroke was the result of plaque in the blood vessels of the brain.
“Just like people get cholesterol plaque in the heart and have a heart attack, cholesterol plaque in the brain causes stroke,” Dr. Southwood said.
A thrombectomy is a complex procedure and Dr. Southwood told Todd that, although he was able to restore the blood flow in Jean’s brain, there was no telling the true extent of the damage until she woke up.
“I remember going into her room, and she was lying flat and on a ventilator,” Todd said “It was all pretty scary until the next day, when they removed the breathing tube and she began to speak.”
Admitted on Saturday and released on Wednesday, Jean came through the procedure remarkably well. Because her brain injury was relatively small, she emerged with no physical or cognitive deficits and was able to go home without a course of physical or occupational therapy.
“Basically, I have no residual effects, which I was told at the hospital is amazing,” Jean said “They kept telling me I’m a miracle.”
Learn more about our Stroke and Neurovascular Program.
Do Not Drive. Call 911 for Emergency Care Transport.
Time is of the essence when a stroke is underway. Call 911 for transportation to a hospital. Do not drive or ask someone to drive you. In an ambulance, paramedics can begin care and communicate immediately with a hospital about your condition.
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