New Device Saves Dowagiac Woman from Massive Stroke - Bronson Healthcare

Published on September 18, 2013

Debra Burke

When Dowagiac resident and hospice nurse, Debra Burke, suddenly kept dropping her cell phone, it didn’t occur to her she might be experiencing a life-threatening stroke. But after she collapsed on the job, her colleague called 911. Burke was transported to Bronson Methodist Hospital where doctors rapidly worked to clear a massive blood clot from her brain. Their efforts were successful, thanks to a new device that many in the health industry have hailed as a game-changer.

Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, killing almost 130,000 Americans each year. Strokes are either ischemic, due to a blocked blood vessel that deprives the brain of oxygen and nutrients, or hemorrhagic, due to a ruptured, bleeding blood vessel in the brain. Eighty seven percent of strokes are ischemic, like the one Burke experienced. Surviving a stroke depends on a victim getting the right treatment quickly, because as every second passes, more brain tissue dies.

Bronson was the first hospital in southwest Michigan approved to use a new device called Solitaire. It was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in March 2012. It can help save the lives of patients like Burke, whose clots are too large to be treated with tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) clot-busting drugs, as well as patients who arrive at the hospital too late for effective treatment with tPA.

Jeffrey Miller, MD, with Bronson Neuroscience Center was the first physician in southwest Michigan to use the device. Dr. Miller is a neurointerventional surgeon—a specialist who uses minimally invasive surgical techniques to treat stroke, brain aneurysms and other neurological conditions.

He used the Solitaire device to remove the six-inch clot found on the right side of Burke’s brain. The self-expanding, stent was inserted with a thin catheter tube through her groin, and into the problem artery. As Dr. Miller retracted the tube, the stent expanded into the clot, immediately restoring blood flow to the brain and grabbing the clot for easy retrieval. An earlier generation of similar devices was less effective in retrieving large clots.

“My left side couldn’t move at all, and the doctors were very concerned about brain damage,” recalled Burke. “My family knew it didn’t look good, but Dr. Miller told them he wouldn’t give up on me.”

By the morning after surgery, Burke had already regained movement in her left leg. She completed rehabilitation and has resumed most of her normal activities. To help rebuild muscle and cardiovascular strength, she takes a Tai Chi class twice a week and walks her dog Gus. She was relieved when her follow-up CT scan showed that the comprised area of her brain remains clear.

Burke doesn’t remember much about the day she had her stroke, except for her concern that she would miss her son’s wedding two weeks later. But her recovery was so quick; she not only attended the wedding, but she also made it to the bridal shower a week before. “We are all just very grateful to Dr. Miller and very pleased with Bronson,” she said.

Warning Signs of Stroke

Use FAST to remember the warning signs of stroke.

  • Face: Ask them to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
  • Arms: Ask them to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • Speech: Ask them to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?
  • Time: Time is critical. If you see any of these signs, call 911 immediately.

Risk Factors

There are several controllable risk factors for stroke.

  • If you smoke, quit.
  • Control high blood pressure.
  • If you are a diabetic, control your blood sugar levels.
  • Drink alcohol only in moderation.
  • If you have atrial fibrillation, work with your doctor to manage it.
  • Know your cholesterol.
  • Eat salt in moderation and try to follow a balanced diet.

Risk factors you cannot control include:

  • Family history of stroke
  • Age: Stroke risk increases with age
  • Gender: Women have a higher stroke risk than men since women tend to live longer.
  • Race: African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians/Pacific Islanders have a higher stroke risk.
  • Previous stroke or TIA

About Bronson Neuroscience Center

Bronson provides one of the most comprehensive neuroscience programs in southwest Michigan. Together, its multidisciplinary team of highly trained specialists offers the most advanced diagnostics and the latest treatments in an environment that promotes healing. From treating stroke and providing minimally invasive spine surgery, to offering a pediatric neurosurgeon, a neurointerventional surgeon, and the area's only epileptologist, the services provided by Bronson's neuroscience program are unique in southwest Michigan.

Some of the nation’s leading authorities on hospital quality have consistently recognized Bronson’s neuroscience program. For example, Bronson Methodist Hospital (BMH) has been named a Certified Primary Stroke Center by The Joint Commission and a designated a Stroke Center of Excellence by NeuStrategy. BMH also received the Silver Plus Performance Award for Stroke Care (2012) from the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association.

Bronson has been ranked by HealthGrades as one of America's 100 Best Hospitals for Stroke Care (2012-2013), and ranked in the top five percent of hospitals in the nation for treatment of stroke (2012-2013), neurosurgery (2013) and for neurosciences (2012-2013). It was also a recipient of HealthGrades Stroke Care Excellence Award (2011-2013), Neurosurgery Excellence Award (2012-2013) and Neurosciences Excellence Award (2012-2013).