A Close Encounter With Stroke

Nobody knows when or if they might become a stroke victim. Such was the case for Joyce Aldred-Fine, now a five-year stroke survivor.

Every Minute Counts

As with many stroke cases, the experience came on suddenly. One moment, Joyce was receiving her community health screenings, testing for high cholesterol, blood pressure, heart disease, and other related conditions. The next moment, she was being told that her carotid artery disease screening was at a “very dangerous level” and that she needed to be examined by her primary care physician right away.

Joyce doesn’t recall having any symptoms typical of a stroke—no numbness or tingling, slurred speech, headache or dizziness. “Honestly, I felt great and was convinced nothing was wrong with me,” she said.

And with no family history of stroke, it was hard to believe the news. Her doctor was already treating her for high blood pressure and cholesterol, prescribing medications for both. But at Joyce’s request, he referred her to ProMedica Flower Hospital to receive additional testing.

“The technician at Flower Hospital said that I couldn’t drive a car home,” Joyce said. “She told me my carotid artery was blocked 99.99%, and I could have a stroke at any moment.”

A Patient Meets Her Hero

Joyce was immediately referred to Anthony Comerota, MD, FACS, director at Jobst Vascular Institute on the ProMedica Toledo Hospital campus. Dr. Comerota had been alerted of the immediate attention Joyce would require. He gave her some blood thinners and said, “Take these, you are having surgery tomorrow morning,” Joyce recalled.

Joyce was too shocked to ask many questions at the time. But she knew she was in good hands with Dr. Comerota. “I did not worry one iota,” she said. “Dr. Comerota came across as a confident and caring man. He told me he would take care of me, and he did. He was my hero.”

According to Dr. Comerota, a percentage of strokes stem from the main artery in the neck, branching to the internal and external carotid arteries.

“Joyce had severe build up of fat and cholesterol, with a concerning clot forming on top,” Dr. Comerota recalled. “If a piece of that had broken off, it could have blocked important blood supply to the brain, resulting in a major stroke. Fortunately, we were able to make an incision in the neck and scrape away the plaque.”

Dr. Comerota described the procedure too a common food analogy, “The plaque peels out of the artery much like the white of a soft boiled egg is removed from its shell with a spoon.”

Living to Tell the Tale

Joyce’s surgery was scheduled for 5 a.m. the following morning. She recuperated in the hospital for 24 hours, and was able to return to work within a week of the operation — almost as quickly as her diagnosis.

And while Joyce checks in with Dr. Comerota every six months to make sure her arteries are clear of obstruction, she’s reminded every day of her brief encounter with stroke. She even has the battle scar to prove it.

“It’s funny. People say to me, ‘Don’t you want to wear a scarf to cover up that scar?’ And I tell them that it’s my badge of courage.”

Learn more about how stroke is treated at the Jobst Vascular Institute.