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Published on October 05, 2016

From Stroke to Recovery in About the Time it Takes to Watch a Movie

It was around 5 p.m. on a summer evening in 2016 when Joyce Markwell collapsed among the boxes on her kitchen floor as she was packing for her family’s upcoming move. Moments after Joyce had fallen, her husband, Mark, and daughter, Florie, rushed into the kitchen. Noting Joyce’s unresponsiveness and suspecting a stroke, they called 911. Minutes after Florie made the call, the ambulance arrived

Joyce Markwell and family

From right: Florie, Joyce and Mark Marwell enjoy a quiet
moment together as a family.

“I remember hearing the siren and thinking, ‘They’re coming for me,’” Joyce says. “And then I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, my neighbors will see me coming out on a stretcher, and they’re all going to worry about what’s going on.’”

Within 20 minutes of her fall, the ambulance had delivered her to the Moses Cone Hospital emergency department in Greensboro, where her treatment team had already assembled. This fast action—by her family and medical staff—is credited for her rapid and impressive recovery from a stroke.

New procedure removes clot

Joyce’s stroke had partially paralyzed her left side. As part of her stroke treatment, the stroke team team initially tried to break up the blockage that was obstructing the flow of blood to the right side of her brain with medication. 

When that didn’t work, Joyce underwent a CT scan, and radiologist Tony Deveshwar, MD, met with Mark and Florie to discuss the procedure he was planning to perform that evening.

In the procedure, Deveshwar inserted a microcatheter into the large artery in Joyce’s groin and, with X-ray guidance, threaded it all the way to the clot in the brain. (See this video for an animated explanation of how this stroke treatment works.) He then did two things: He pushed the microcatheter past the clot, immediately restoring blood flow, then used the device to capture the clot and remove it. Deveshwar estimates he performs this procedure up to 45 times a year.

Cone Health is one of a select group of hospitals with this technology. “I was able to open it up and completely restore blood flow,” Deveshwar says. “That’s the reason she was able to do so well afterward.”

Teamwork aids stroke treatment and recovery

Shortly after the procedure, around 8:45 p.m., Joyce was taken to intensive care. Bruce Swords, MD, a family friend and the chief medical officer of the Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital, asked Joyce to squeeze his hand with her left hand, and she did. The blockage was gone, and mobility was beginning to return to her left side.

“I knew then that she’d be alright,” Swords says.

As a patient, Joyce was impressed with how quickly she was cared for.

“We had all these activities that happened in this amount of time,” she says.

“We also had the opportunity to have this expert with Cone Health who could do this procedure … and everything worked out well.” After the surgery, the composition of the care team began to change, but the handoff was smooth. 

“The communication between shift changes was very thorough,” Joyce says. “I was very impressed. Anybody who was in there—whether they were the physical therapist or the nurse or the doctor—everybody knew what was going on.”

Since returning home, Joyce has improved more quickly than expected, finishing physical therapy in two weeks rather than the standard eight. But there’s more work to do. Joyce attends occupational therapy and speech therapy twice a week, usually in back-to-back 45-minute sessions.

She is also back in her kitchen—a new one, since a group of her coworkers at VF Corporation finished packing and moved the boxes to their new house. And a trip to Hawaii, postponed by Joyce’s stroke, is back on the schedule.

During a very positive follow-up appointment a month after the stroke, Deveshwar made a remark that has stuck with Joyce ever since. “He looked at me and said ‘You are a walking miracle,’” Joyce recalls. “Now that is motivation to keep living a great life with my family and friends.”

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