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Thursday, December 1, 2022

Remarkable Recovery for a Stroke Patient

Posted By: Advancing Care
Photo by Ken Gabrielsen 

By Rita Ross

October 7, 2021 seemed like a normal day to Bernadete Zweck. 

It was mid-afternoon, and she was doing some fall housekeeping while her husband, Dave, puttered in their yard in rural Woodbourne, NY.

“I remember reaching up to finish washing the bedroom windows, when suddenly everything went black and I collapsed on the floor,” says Bernadete, 67, a retired certified nursing assistant.

When she came to, she tried yelling for help, but only a weak whisper came out.

By some miracle of timing, Dave, her husband of 22 years, soon came inside for a glass of iced tea. “I saw her lying there, curled up, against the wall and could hear her moaning faintly. It was terrifying,” he says.

Dave, 66, who is also retired, was trained in first aid for his job as a state correctional officer. “I figured maybe she’d had a heart attack, or a stroke, because she couldn’t move the right side of her body.”

Dave quickly called 911. And as luck would have it, a neighbor with EMT training who had monitored the ambulance call rushed over to help. 

A Mamakating First Aid Squad ambulance soon arrived, and paramedic Jeff Ashdown quickly surveyed the situation. Dave recalls: “Jeff said, ‘We’re not wasting any time! We’ll call a helicopter and fly her out to Westchester Medical Center.’” 

The ambulance sped Bernadete half a mile away to a horse pasture large enough for a helicopter to land, and she was airlifted to Westchester Medical Center’s Comprehensive Stroke Center, which is the only one of its kind in the Hudson Valley.

Dave states, “When the paramedics said she was going to Westchester Medical Center, I felt a sense of relief, because it has a good reputation in the correctional community where I worked.”

Meanwhile, Dave’s sister, who lives nearby, arrived and they hurried to get ready for the two-and-a-half-hour drive to Westchester.

Before they left, a call came from Westchester Medical Center. “Bernadete was already at the hospital, and they asked my permission to perform emergency surgery,” Dave recalls. “It was amazing. I’d called for an ambulance around 2:15 p.m., and within 45 minutes, she was flown down to Westchester and they were ready to operate.”

Timely Treatment

When Dave and his sister arrived at Westchester Medical Center, Fawaz Al-Mufti, MD, neuroendovascular surgeon at Westchester Medical Center, greeted them with good news. “He said Bernadete’s surgery was completed and was a success,” Dave says.

Bernadete’s medical team also included neurology specialists, Andrew Bauerschmidt, MD, Ji Chong, MD, and Christeena Kurian, MD. Dr. Kurian explains: “In Bernadete’s case, one of the largest blood vessels on the left side of her brain was blocked. Getting to a Comprehensive Stroke Center like we have here at Westchester Medical Center was crucial, since she required immediate treatment.”

Sometimes called a “brain attack,” stroke strikes nearly 800,000 people in the U.S. each year. The most common type, known as an ischemic stroke, occurs when blood supply to the brain is blocked by a clot or particles of plaque. A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain bursts.

Dr. Kurian adds: “In an effort to minimize risk of death or disability associated with stroke, Bernadete received timely care with two mainstays of early stroke treatment: intravenous tPA and mechanical thrombectomy.” 

The clot-busting medication known as the tissue plasminogen activator, or tPA, helps restore blood flow to the brain. Mechanical thrombectomy is a minimally invasive procedure, which involves a small incision being made in the patient’s groin or wrist, then tiny catheter tubes are threaded through their blood vessels up to the brain, where the blood clot is removed.

Back on Her Feet

Bernadete’s recovery relatively fast. Just a week after surgery, she was transferred closer to home to WMCHealth’s Primary Stroke Center at MidHudson Regional Hospital, where she continued physical and occupational therapy. Remarkably, after a week at MidHudson Regional Hospital, Bernadete was back home. She followed up with physical rehabilitation at a local facility three times a week for about three months. 

“I feel as good as new!” says Bernadete. She’s now back to her everyday activities, and when she and Dave aren’t taking care of the house or tending their garden, they enjoy heading to nearby rail trails, often walking five or six miles a day.

Dave notes that although his wife’s medical crisis was challenging, they’re both grateful for the positive outcome.

“When Bernadete had the stroke, we were lucky because everything was in the right place at the right time,” he explains. “I happened to go into the house and find her right after the stroke occurred, and we were fortunate to get her airlifted so quickly. Most of all, I give everybody at Westchester Medical Center a lot of credit, especially Dr. Al-Mufti for quickly assessing her and performing surgery upon her arrival. Bernadete was the whole team’s primary focus.” 

Bernadete agrees: “The timing saved my life! And in the hospital, I always felt I was in good hands; I received excellent care.”

Dr. Kurian adds: “We call Bernadete one of our ‘miracle’ stories, because they were able to get a helicopter on scene right away, in a rural area – and she needed extensive measures taken quickly when she arrived here. We’re so glad she’s doing well!”

Signs of Stroke

For others who may find themselves in a situation like Bernadete’s, Dr. Kurian says, “We use the acronym ‘BE FAST’ to help people identify the signs of a stroke.”

B is for sudden balance issues like dizziness or trouble walking

E is for eye problems such as sudden difficulty seeing in one or both eyes, or seeing double.

F is for facial drooping

A is for arm and leg weakness or numbness

S is for speech issues such as slurred speech

T is for time – every minute, you can lose millions of brain cells, so get help fast!

Dr. Kurian adds: “We urge people, at the first symptom of stroke, to call 911 so EMS can help them get to a stroke center quickly.”

Four member hospitals of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network – Westchester Medical Center, Good Samaritan Hospital, MidHudson Regional Hospital and HealthAlliance Hospital – have each earned the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association's Get with the Guidelines® Stroke Gold Plus Quality Achievement Award for 2022. The award recognizes each hospital for its commitment to, and success in, ensuring stroke patients receive excellent care based on the latest evidence-based scientific guidelines.