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Shari Stack, 30, is a very unusual new mom. While others may find constant feedings, diaper changes and late-night wake-ups challenging, she looks forward to this routine with her infant, Liam, with great joy. That’s because six weeks after Liam was born, a massive stroke threatened hers.
One Saturday morning in January, Ms. Stack and her husband, Christopher, had just finished playing with their son in the family room of their Massapequa Park (Long Island, New York) home. As Mr. Stack watched television, Ms. Stack was checking e-mails when the vision in her right eye blurred. Upon trying to close her laptop computer, she realized that she shut her right hand inside it and couldn’t feel it. Puzzled, Ms. Stack looked over at her husband but couldn’t speak. She lay down on the couch and realized she couldn’t move her right leg. Her husband asked if she was okay — whether she could breathe and talk. When she couldn’t respond, Mr. Stack, a New York City firefighter, instantly knew his wife was having a stroke and called 911. He also immediately called a neighbor to take care of Liam.
Paramedics rushed Ms. Stack to a nearby community hospital, where a computed tomography (CT) scan revealed total blockage of her left middle cerebral artery. To restore blood flow to the left side of her brain, doctors gave Ms. Stack the clot-busting drug, tissue plasminogen activator (tPA). Administration of the medication within the first three hours of the initial appearance of stroke symptoms increases the likelihood of complete recovery.
Still unable to speak and showing other symptoms, such as total right-side paralysis, Ms. Stack was transferred by ambulance to North Shore University Hospital (NSUH) for further treatment. NSUH is a New York State Department of Health stroke center and certified by the Joint Commission as a stroke center of distinction.
“Our new Stroke Rescue Program gives patients rapid transport from other hospitals for specialized stroke interventions at North Shore University Hospital,” said Jeffrey Katz, MD, director of stroke and vascular neurology at NSUH. “The key is to do it as quickly as possible.”
By the time Ms. Stack got to North Shore University Hospital, doctors from both hospitals and the paramedics had already conferred via conference call and the stroke team and Emergency Department (ED) staff were on alert. Ms. Stack got rapid assessment in the ED’s critical area and evaluation by the stroke physician on call and by Avi Setton, MD, chief of interventional neuroradiology and codirector of the hospital’s Brain Aneurysm Center.
Ms. Stack was brought to NSUH’s endovascular suite to treat her cerebral artery blockage. Dr. Setton performed an angiogram, a specialized X-ray of blood vessels in the head and neck, then inserted a catheter in an artery near the groin and snaked it up to the blockage in Ms. Stack’s brain. Dr. Setton administered additional tPA directly into the clot to dissolve it. Ms. Stack regained her ability to speak and move the right-side of her body.
Dr. Setton attributed part of Ms. Stack’s positive results to her relatively young age (29 at the time of the stroke), good health history (no risk factors) and her husband’s quick response. “If she came to the hospital later, there probably would’ve been more damage,” said Dr. Setton.
When Ms. Stack awoke from the procedure, she said she felt “75 percent” recovered. “During the eight days in the ICU, more than 20 nurses and doctors came to see me, ‘the miracle girl.’ I was very overwhelmed at how many people came to check up on me. Everyone was so great and caring, only wanting the best for me. I appreciated that so much.”
Just a few months after her stroke, Ms. Stack felt almost completely recovered. She underwent physical, speech and occupational therapy, and although she occasionally struggled for the right word, she continued to improve. “After six weeks, I was driving,” said Ms. Stack. “Two months after the stroke, I could take a walk with my husband in the neighborhood, with my son in the stroller. I know I’m lucky.”
Ms. Stack reported no risk factors for stroke. Before Liam’s birth, she practiced prenatal yoga and worked out twice a week with a trainer at the gym. Ms. Stack’s physicians are not sure what caused the stroke; her genetic testing is normal.
“I’m determined to do everything I can to make sure I take the best possible care of myself for my son and husband,” said Ms. Stack. “Before this happened, I didn’t know the warning signs of a stroke. My husband saved my life; he’s truly my hero.”
To contact Shari:
Send email to email@example.com and be sure to put 'Shari Stack' in subject text.
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