Dan’s Story: Stroke Like Being ‘Struck By Lightning’

In some families, lightning can strike twice. Just months after his wife, Ruta, was diagnosed and treated at Rush University Medical Center for what doctors describe as a one-in-a-million type of sinus cancer, Dan, then 42, experienced the worst headache of his life. While helping his brother-in-law shovel snow, his vision turned blue. “My head felt like it was struck by lightning,” he says.

Emergency personnel took Dan to a local hospital where, after CT evaluation, it was quickly decided to transfer him to Rush, which has a comprehensive stroke program and the highest volume of stroke patients in Illinois. Fortunately for Dan, the local hospital participated in Rush’s expedited transfer service for people suffering from strokes.

With just one phone call from a physician, patients can be transferred to Rush and receive immediate medical attention from a team of stroke specialists, which is led by stroke neurologist Shyam Prabhakaran, MD. Since each passing minute jeopardizes brain health, prompt medical intervention for Dan was critical.

In Rush’s neurointensive care unit, Sayona John, MD, a neurointensivist, set out to diagnose Dan’s condition, conferring with other members of the stroke team to nail down the exact source of Dan’s problem and identify a way to treat it. Dan, who was awake, couldn’t even repeat his own name. Although Dan didn’t have the typical history found with a condition known as a dural arteriovenous fistula (also called a dural arteriovenous malformation) — he didn’t have high blood pressure nor did he take blood-thinning medications — doctors soon determined that this was at the root of Dan’s condition. They performed more diagnostic testing and found unusual bleeding between his skull and the lining of his brain and a fistula, which is like a blood clot.

Before removing the clot, doctors needed to stop the bleeding and prevent further tissue damage. To accomplish this, they inserted microcatheters into Dan’s groin and threaded them up to his brain, where Michael Chen, MD, a neurointerventionalist, was able to locate the exact artery causing the bleeding and use Onyx — a fast-drying, glue-like substance that physicians at Rush helped pioneer — to stop the bleeding. This procedure set the stage for surgery the following day, in which neurosurgeon Lorenzo Muñoz, MD, evacuated blood from the brain and removed the clot. Soon after surgery, Dan’s regained his ability to speak coherently.

Throughout Dan’s ordeal, the stroke team — neurointensivists, stroke neurologists, a neurointerventionalist and a neurosurgeon as well as nurses with specialized training — shared their unique perspectives with each other to put Dan first and deliver the best care possible. The team’s approach to care impressed both Dan and Ruta. “Between the doctors and the nurses, everyone is so kind and so genuine,” Ruta says. “And they truly make you feel like you’re important and that what you’re feeling is important.”

For Dan, Rush’s team work has translated into a complete recovery. He’s back at work at DeVry University and, oddly enough, he now plays the guitar — an instrument he has strummed since he was five — better than ever.

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