Strength and determination are hallmarks of Elaine Lenhart’s character, but those traits were almost her downfall when she experienced a stroke in February 2022. Back to her busy life after treatment at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center, she shares her story in hopes of encouraging others to get the timely treatment they need.
It’s typical for a mom like Elaine to take care of everyone and everything else before she stops to think about herself. The day of her stroke, she had brought her daughter to work because Hannah, 17, had recently undergone surgery and Elaine wanted to make sure she was OK.
Very suddenly, the tables turned and Hannah was watching out for her mom instead. Hannah says Elaine stopped typing on the keyboard and seemed to freeze, then began repeating her name.
“Because my mom is an accountant, I was like, ‘I’ll just ask her if she can count to 10,’ and that’s when she started spelling out her name,” Hannah says. “I knew immediately that there was something very wrong.”
The hard-working mom was adamant that everything was fine, but Hannah slipped away to call 911 anyway, asking Elaine’s boss to step in and keep Elaine distracted.
It took a phone conversation with Elaine’s brother and the persistent urging of her daughter to get Elaine to the hospital. Even then she insisted on walking to the ambulance instead of being wheeled on a stretcher.
Elaine had seen devastating effects of stroke in other members of her family, and it didn’t match up with her own experience.
“When you hear about stroke, you hear about the drawing of the mouth and that if you don’t get it taken care of you could be paralyzed. You could have to relearn to talk, you could have to relearn to walk – you know, all of those severities,” Elaine says. “I didn’t feel like I had a severity happening to me.”
The Care She Needed
After rushing to Fort Sanders Regional, a designated Stroke Center of Excellence with advanced diagnostic tools and treatment, Hannah’s suspicion was confirmed. Something was definitely wrong with her mother.
Rob Hixson, MD, is a Vista radiologist at Fort Sanders Regional who cared for Elaine during her most critical moments at the hospital.
“She was able to understand things, but she wasn’t able to express them, which is what we call expressive aphasia,” he says. “In these cases, the patient doesn’t even realize they’re not making sense.”
Dr. Hixson says it’s critically important for stroke patients like Elaine to receive care quickly, no matter how mild the symptoms may seem and no matter how convinced the patient is that care is unnecessary.
“One of the major delays to getting stroke care when needed is that a stroke typically doesn’t cause pain,” Dr. Hixson says, “and one of the symptoms of a stroke is not knowing you’re having a stroke.”
Elaine’s brother made record time getting to the hospital and waited with Hannah while Elaine underwent a procedure that was once unheard of. Dr. Hixson threaded a catheter through an artery to remove the large clot that had formed in Elaine’s brain.
The day after her procedure, Elaine was discharged from the hospital. The next day she was able to go back to work for a couple of hours. “The care that they gave me at Fort Sanders was so above anything I would have ever expected,” she says.
When Elaine looks back on the experience, she counts herself blessed. “I have to say that God had everybody that I needed in place that day, from Hannah being at my office to my brother making it to the hospital, to me having the right physician that could pinpoint what was wrong and fix it,” she says.
Elaine now has her life back, and Hannah has her mom back.
“You have to act, no matter what that loved one is saying or if they’re trying to resist,” Hannah says. “You have to know that this is a very serious thing and that every minute counts.”
Fort Sanders Regional Offers Life-Saving Advances in Stroke Care
Large clots in the brain which once limited stroke patient’s quality of life now can often be removed with a minimally invasive procedure. Neurointerventional radiologists at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center say it’s more than a better method of treatment – it’s an innovation that leads to better outcomes for stroke patients.
“There was no open surgery where you could go in and scoop out the clot,” says Dr. Hixson.
Less than 10 years ago, stroke patients with larger clots who couldn’t be helped by medication had no choice but to adapt to life-altering limitations. Severe strokes were medically managed with the only real hope being physical therapy after the damage had been done.
But today, Dr. Hixson can insert a catheter into a small incision where the leg meets the hip, thread that catheter up through the body into the brain and remove the clot. He regularly sees the dramatic difference it makes as patients are suddenly able to speak clearly and move well, things that stroke had rendered them incapable of doing minutes earlier.
“It has one of the largest impacts on patients’ quality of life – and life in general – of any procedure that we can do,” Dr. Hixson says. “It’s definitely very rewarding.”
In 2015, the first major study supporting the procedure was released, affirming that it was saving lives and removing the need for lifelong skilled nursing care. Fort Sanders Regional was the first hospital in the region to combine CT scans and bi-plane angiography with the expertise of a neurointerventional radiologist to provide minimally invasive options for treating stroke, aneurysms and other vascular diseases in the brain.
Bi-plane technology improves imaging, creating comprehensive three-dimensional views of the blood vessels in the brain. The precise picture makes it easier to diagnose and treat a stroke. Radiation exposure is kept at a safe minimum and hospital stays are usually minimal, too.
To learn more about stroke care at Fort Sanders Regional, visit www.FSRegional.com or call 865-673-3678.