I Think of Strokes Happening in Older People, Not Me

Karen Walsh and her husband Tim on their first dinner out since the stroke. Photo Credit- Karen Walsh

A sunny, hot day on the golf course in July, Karen Walsh’s life as she knew it changed. Having the greatest round ever and working toward a new personal best, she was getting ready to drive the ball when she had a sudden onset of dizziness. Thinking she was just dehydrated, she drank liquids but soon the uncontrollable spinning caused her the need to lay down.

Still believing her symptoms were brought on by a hot day on the golf course, the resident professional provided more liquids and returned her to her car where she began to vomit and called her husband to pick her up.

Scared and confused because she didn’t know what was wrong and her symptoms were rapidly progressing she re-directed her husband to head to the Emergency Department (ED) at John Dempsey Hospital.

Karen Walsh with her children Samantha (9), Tyler (13), Benjamin (11), and Wendell the dog after returning home. (Photo Credit: Karen Walsh)

At only 41 years old, Walsh considered herself active and healthy and had no risk factors for a stroke, so she never imagined that is what was happening to her.

“I couldn’t keep my eyes open and was getting tunnel vision, I knew something was terribly wrong,” says Walsh.

The last thing she remembers was her husband running into the ED to get help.

In the ED she appeared to progress and a stroke alert was called to assemble the stroke team.

After a head CT, the team gave the patient tissue Plasminogen Activator (tPA ) for a blood clot. When administered quickly after stroke onset, tPA helps to restore blood flow to brain regions affected by a stroke, thereby limiting the risk of damage and functional impairment. Dr. Mason Leeman-Markowski oversaw her hospital care from the neurology perspective. Recognizing that she was progressing to a life-threatening condition even with the tPA on board, he consulted with neurosurgery and activated a thrombectomy code.

The neurologists, neuro-interventionalists, anesthesiologists, and neurosurgeons in the hospital’s state-of-the-art hybrid operating room and its OR staff worked quickly and got Walsh to the hybrid operating room where she underwent mechanical thrombectomy with removal of the clot and complete recanalization of the basilar artery, a condition that just prior to that was threatening her life.

Dr. Ketan Bulsara, Professor and Chief, Division of Neurosurgery, who retrieved the clot from the clogged brain artery relates, “The management of stroke patients is a multidisciplinary team effort. Immediate treatment is essential because, with every second that goes by, there is potentially less brain tissue that can be saved.”

Walsh was in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for a week following the procedure, but recalls almost nothing of her time at UConn Health and remembers only waking up in a rehab facility where she spent several weeks.

She is now home and making a remarkable recovery. Her vision is still an issue and she attends vision therapy and wears special tinted prism glasses. She misses her hobby of reading and is hoping with progress she will be able to start to read soon.

Her speech has also gotten better through speech therapy, however, it becomes labor-intensive to speak too long and she begins to slur when tired.

The most challenging part of Walsh’s recovery has been physical and occupational therapy. She exhausts easily, but her stamina and endurance are increasing as she walks several times a day with the help of family and friends who walk with her.

Walsh had a stroke as a complication of a vertebral artery dissection. She is grateful to her family and network of friends who have stepped up to help her in her recovery. Her children and husband have been extremely helpful and she keeps the signs of stroke (BEFAST) on her bulletin board so all are aware.

Walsh will be speaking at the 2nd Annual Stroke Survivor Symposium set for Oct. 28 from 5-7 p.m. virtually. She will join one of her doctors, Sanjay Mittal, M.D., Medical Director of UConn Health’s Stroke Center, and other stroke survivors as they share their inspirational and heartwarming stories. Participants will learn about managing stroke risk factors, identifying the signs and symptoms of acute stroke as well as the latest available treatments. Advanced registration is recommended.

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