Debra Burke's Story - Bronson Healthcare
When hospice nurse Debra Burke kept dropping her cell phone as she talked to a colleague, she didn't think "stroke." A few hours later, Bronson's stroke team was retreiving a massive blood clot with a new device that saved her life.

Debra Burke

Burke, age 57, had just pulled up outside an area nursing home when her phone kept slipping from her grasp. Not realizing she was suffering a stroke, she made her way inside to talk with another nurse about a patient. “That’s when I went down,” she says. Her colleague called 911 and Burke was brought by ambulance to Bronson Methodist Hospital.

A CT scan showed a large dark area on the right side of Burke’s brain—a six-inch clot too large to be treated effectively with tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) clot-busting drugs. 

“My left side couldn’t move at all, and the doctors were very concerned about brain damage,” Burke says. “My family knew it didn’t look good, but Dr. Miller told them he wouldn’t give up on me.“ Jeffrey Miller, MD, is a fellowship-trained neurointerventional surgeon—a specialist who uses radiologic images and minimally invasive procedures to treat stroke, brain aneurysm and other conditions.

Dr. Miller used the Solitaire™ Flow-Restoration device to remove the clot that was blocking the flow of blood to Burke’s brain. Bronson is the only hospital in southwest Michigan that provides this important new tool recently approved by the FDA. It can help save the lives of patients whose clots are too large or who arrive at the hospital too late for effective treatment with tPA.   

To begin procedures like Burke’s Dr. Miller threads a thin tube through an artery in the groin up to the brain. Then he advances a second, smaller tube with a miniature stent at its tip within the first tube and pushes it forward through the clot. As it’s retracted, the stent expands into the clot, grabbing it for easy retrieval.

By the morning after surgery, Burke had already regained movement in her left leg, and she was discharged to a Three Rivers facility for inpatient rehabilitation after four nights at Bronson. She’s now continuing her therapy at an outpatient center in Dowagiac, near her home. She lives alone and is managing just fine, resuming most of her normal activities and walking regularly to build muscle and cardiovascular strength. Burke plans to return to work in a few months—quite a feat, given the severity of her stroke.   

Her family has filled in the details, but Burke doesn’t remember much about what happened the day she had her stroke. With one exception—she remembers worrying that that she would miss her son’s wedding two weeks later. Thanks to the Bronson stroke team and the advanced treatments available to Bronson patients, Burke not only made it to the wedding, and also to a bridal shower a week beforehand. She says, “We are all just very grateful to Dr. Miller and very pleased with Bronson.”

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