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Stroke Patient Story | UnityPoint Health Quad Cities

Stroke Patient Story

Primary Stroke Center Certification Made a Difference

Susan Wahlmann peered through the dark at her alarm clock. It was only 5:30. Her husband, Michael, breathed quietly beside her. The November chill in her Rock Island house made her resist the urge to use the restroom, but she finally gave in. She crept out of bed and down the hall. She still had an hour and a half before she had to get up for the day. She hurried back to her warm bed, but as she tried to slide in, she realized that something was "really, really wrong." She couldn't get her right leg back onto the mattress. It had quit working.  

When she tried to wake up Michael, she found her speech was gone, too. She shook him with her left hand.

Michael took one look and called 911. He had seen stroke symptoms years earlier in his father and suspected it now in his 39-year-old wife. Within minutes, the medics arrived, stabilized Susan for transport and drove her to Trinity Rock Island, a Primary Stroke Center as certified by The Joint Commission's Gold Seal of Approvalâ„¢.

Trinity Was Standing By

Trinity's certification - earned by Trinity Moline and Bettendorf as well - means Trinity consistently achieves nationally recognized standards for outcomes and the timeframe in which it treats a stroke patient. The Primary Stroke Center certification is based on the recommendations published by the Brain Attack Coalition and the American Stroke Association's statements and guidelines for stroke care. 

Following those guidelines, Trinity staff had already been placed on notice by an overhead "stroke alert" page that a possible stroke patient was coming in. Susan was met at the door and wheeled into a CT scanner. Lab techs, staff and physicians from different functional areas were also standing by.

Good thing. Tests showed Susan had suffered an ischemic stroke in which blood flow to her brain had been blocked by a clot on the left side. She faced difficult odds: stroke kills approximately one American every four minutes and often leaves survivors permanently disabled.

tPA, Surgery Required

By now, the right side of Susan's face was drooping and her speech was unintelligible. She says she remembers most of what happened though; she was always conscious. 

"I remember hearing, 'Do tPA now!'" she says. "I could speak better immediately. Then I heard them say, 'Call Peoria.'" 

The tissue plasminogen activator - or tPA, which helps dissolve clots and improve blood flow if given within three hours (and up to four and a half hours in certain eligible patients) - had been administered within one hour. Although Susan had responded well, she needed specialized neurosurgery to remove the clot. She was flown to Peoria, and by 8 a.m. was being wheeled into the OR.

"Part of being a Primary Stroke Center is having relationships in place to get patients to the most appropriate level of care within the shortest amount of time," said Jodi Dykema, Trinity's Director of Neurological Services.  "Sometimes that means treating then transporting.  We've worked very hard to cultivate those relationships so that when minutes count, our patients don't have to second-guess where they go in an emergency. They can feel confident they will get the right care at the right time in the right place."

The Hardest Part

"By the time Michael got there, it was over," Susan says. "I had to lie completely still afterwards for six hours. I'm an active person. It was the hardest part."

At least it was the hardest part up till that moment. Once Susan had been transported back at Trinity for rehab, she says she learned what "hard" really meant.

"I was lucky," she says. "My stroke was caught immediately, and I was in great hospital. But I had serious problems. My face still drooped. My right side was weak. I had to learn how to walk and talk and even remember things again."

Susan credits Trinity physical, speech and occupational therapists with her recovery.

"They worked me so hard, but I kept up with them," she says. "I was determined to get back to work, to get my lifestyle back. They were a God-send."

After nearly five months - and countless word-find puzzles, physical exercises and other rehab activities - Susan returned to work as the Performing Arts and Arts-in-Education Director at Quad City Arts.

"I still forget words sometimes but my face doesn't droop anymore," she laughs. Susan says her laughter is a coping response when she can't recall a word or deliver a sentence perfectly. "Imagine where I'd be if not for the fast acting emergency team at Trinity. I'm so grateful!"