Ultrasonographer Mike Padilla had just finished seeing a patient when he went to connect some of his equipment and couldn’t figure out how to tighten a bolt on a screw.
“It’s literally just tightening it with my fingers, and I couldn’t figure it out,” he says.
That’s when Mike fell backwards and hit the wall. He quickly recovered and told everyone he was OK.
“I’m pulling my phone out, and I’m trying to call my wife Karen, but I couldn’t make it work for a few minutes,” he says.
When he was able to dial, he asked her to come pick him up because he felt something just wasn’t right.
“Mike called me from work and says I’d better come pick him up, because I probably don’t want him driving,” Karen Padilla says. “Mike’s had other medical issues through his life, and I’m like, 'OK, what’s going on?'”
Inability to say common words or do routine things signals a neurological problem
Karen, a registered nurse, picked Mike up and started observing him and asking questions. But she didn’t notice anything unusual until he couldn’t say his own name.
“On the way home he starts using words he never uses, so I asked him his name. He told me my name so I asked him again. He had to think about it and force the answer,” she recounts.
Karen wondered if Mike was having a stroke, but she didn’t see any visual signs. There was no facial drooping or one-side paralysis, and he started speaking fine and physically looked OK.
“Then I thought, do I turn around and go back to the hospital or should we continue on home?” she says.
They decided to drive home where Karen called a few friends in the medical profession and told them what happened. By then, Mike was back to normal, and it made everyone question what to do. While in the back of her mind Karen thought a stroke was a possibility, he wasn’t exhibiting the typical signs. Was it his fall against the wall that had caused his confusion?
Mike says he didn’t want to go to the ER only to find out there was nothing wrong.
“You know, I didn't want to wait for eight hours and then get sent home and have to be to work tomorrow morning,” he says.
But a little while later, Mike started doing the funny speech-language thing, so Karen told him, “OK, we need to go now.”
One Valley hospital has treatment to remove blood clots in the brain
Karen rushed Mike to the hospital where an MRI found he had a blood clot. For a higher level of care, Mike needed to be transferred quickly to Community Regional Medical Center — the only Valley hospital offering the endovascular treatment to save his life.
“We are commonly called by outside hospitals that don’t offer the endovascular treatment for stroke that has become a vital aspect of stroke treatment,” says Community Regional neuro-interventionalist Amir Khan, co-director of the hospital’s stroke program. “And so we'll have requests from outlying partner hospitals who have patients in that situation, and then we'll work with them to rapidly treat those patients. And that's what we did in this case.”
Dr. Khan explains the procedure: “You'll be unconscious and I typically enter [with a tiny catheter] through the artery in the leg, and that artery almost serves as an on-ramp to the rest of the arterial system in the body.”
He then navigates into the arteries that supply blood to the brain.
“From there we can go in with smaller equipment and actually navigate to the clot itself, and we have a variety of ways to remove that clot,” he says.
Quick care for strokes means better, faster healing
Mike’s procedure went well and he was sent to the hospital’s Leon S. Peters Rehabilitation Center for about a week before being discharged home.
“I dodged a big bullet. I could have been paralyzed, you know, when you look at stroke mortality rates,” Mike says. “I had a better chance of dying from it than being able to literally walk away from it and put it behind me.”
Mike says he didn’t want to think about how debilitating a stroke could have been.
“I didn't want to be that guy. My dad had a stroke, but his was catastrophic. He was paralyzed on his left side for the rest of his life,” he says. “And I was this far from being there.”
Care close to home eases recovery
Karen says they were very fortunate that all the pieces came together the way they did, and they didn’t have to leave town for her husband’s care.
“It’s so much easier to be able to do it so close to home,” she says. “I don't know what it would have been like to have to deal with going out of town to find a place to stay.”
When Mike was discharged, his wife did therapy with him every day.
“He needed some physical therapy but his issues were more cognitive or thought process therapy,” Karen says. “It was his balance, and thinking ahead to where we were walking. He had a little bit of weakness on the left side. His left foot just didn’t lift quite enough.”
Couple urges others to pay attention and seek help right away
Karen says she couldn’t imagine what would have happened if they hadn’t returned to the hospital that night.
“So listen to things — listen to your body and if there's a problem try to recognize it. Even as healthcare professionals we were unsure and we thought, ‘No that can't be’ … but it was!” she says. “We were lucky, very lucky, but you need to listen to your body and if it's there, you need to go somewhere and seek the help.”
Stroke signs aren’t always obvious
Dr. Khan says while the majority of patients have the classic signs of stroke, some might not.
He says if there was still blood flow with the clot when Mike first exhibited a symptom, people might not have noticed so much. But then his symptoms worsened when the clot started to obstruct the artery more.
“It can be more common than we think,” says Dr. Khan about people not being sure of stroke symptoms.
He says some people have even taken a nap to see if they might feel better later, which is never a good idea — even if you’re uncertain it’s a stroke. Just get to a hospital immediately.
“I think that was commendable of them once it was clear it was not normal, and this could be a stroke,” Dr. Khan says. “I think they acted rapidly and that's what you want to do, you want to get to emergency services.”
The Padillas are thankful for Mike’s positive outcome and his progress with therapy. “You don’t take any moment for granted,” says Karen.
And Mike says he couldn’t have done it without his wife — she’s been his rock.
“Well, she’s done everything, you know, you can’t thank her,” he says. “Well you can, but not enough.”
“Be fast” when looking for signs of stroke
If you think it’s a stroke — B.E. F.A.S.T.
B – Balance
Is the person suddenly having trouble with balance or coordination?
E – Eyes
Is the person experiencing suddenly blurred or double vision or a sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes?
F - Face Drooping
Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile.
A - Arm Weakness
Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S - Speech Difficulty
Is speech slurred, are they unable to speak, or are they hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence like, “The sky is blue.” Is the sentence repeated correctly?
T - Time to call 911
If the person shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 911 and get them to the hospital immediately.