A stroke of fate

A Louisville wife and grandmother survived a stroke thanks to being in the right place at the right time.

During her road to recovery from knee replacement surgery, it never entered Phyllis Atzinger’s mind that she could have a stroke. But she did, and thanks to her husband knowing the signs and the fast work of her medical team, she lives to tell about it.

“I don’t remember much, so I rely on my family to recount the details for me,” said 63-year-old Atzinger, who was at Norton Hospital at the time of her stroke.

“My husband was with me when physical therapy came in for a morning walk after my knee replacement,” she said. “If things went well, I was on track to go home later that day.”

But during the walk things took a turn.

“My hand fell off the walker, so my husband put it back. Then it happened again. That’s when he walked around the front of me and noticed my face was starting to droop on the left side,” Atzinger said. “He alerted the physical therapist and things started happening very quickly.”

Within minutes, her medical team arranged for Atzinger to have a CT scan of her head, revealing a major artery in her brain was blocked. A blockage of this magnitude could have resulted in partial paralysis or even death if it had gone undetected or untreated.

Atzinger was quickly transported to the Comprehensive Stroke Center at Norton Brownsboro Hospital, where the advanced stroke care team was waiting for her arrival. Shervin R. Dashti, M.D., Ph.D., neurosurgeon and co-director of cerebrovascular/endovascular neurosurgery for Norton Neuroscience Institute, reviewed her CT scan and moved quickly to get her into surgery.

“This particular stroke called for acute stroke intervention, where we access the artery through the leg, follow it up to the brain and remove the blockage,” Dr. Dashti said. “This type of minimally invasive surgery is proven most effective in saving the patient from a major stroke. It can be lifesaving and limb-saving.”

Atzinger remembers being awake during the procedure.

“I didn’t feel anything — no pain or discomfort,” she said. “But I remember being able to wiggle my fingers and move my hand upon command after the blockage was removed.”

It was later discovered that Atzinger’s blood clot was related to a small hole in her heart she has had since birth. She has since undergone treatment to repair it.

“Who knows how this story would have ended if I hadn’t already been in the hospital for the knee replacement,” she said. “I’m so blessed that my husband noticed the sudden onset of my face drooping and alerted the medical staff around me.”

Dr. Dashti echoes that sentiment: Timing is critical in the event of a stroke. He warns that a person needs to get treatment within the first few hours of symptoms starting in order to have the best chance at a full recovery.

“It is important for everyone to remember that time lost is brain lost,” Dr. Dashti said. “If someone around you is demonstrating any signs of stroke, act F.A.S.T. and call 911 immediately.”

F.A.S.T. stands for:

  • Face: Ask the person to smile. Warning sign – One side of the face does not move as well as the other.
  • Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Warning sign – One arm does not move or one arm drifts.
  • Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, such as “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Warning sign – The person slurs words or cannot speak.
  • Time: Find out when the person was last seen well. Advantage – More advanced treatment options may be available if medical care is received within three hours of the start of symptoms.

Wondering about your chance of having a stroke? Take a quick online stroke risk assessment to find out.

Stroke Awareness Day at Jefferson Mall

Learn all about stroke prevention and take part in free health screenings including blood pressure, blood sugar and body mass index. About 20 exhibitors will be on hand in the court outside of Macy’s.

May 14
10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Jefferson Mall
4801 Outer Loop
Louisville, Kentucky


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