Laverne VanDorselaer’s adult children had all come together to celebrate her 89th birthday at a West Knoxville restaurant. At the end of the meal, Laverne moved to pack up her leftovers in a to-go box.
“I was trying to pick up my hamburger, and I couldn’t move my hand,” Laverne says. “I couldn’t understand why.”
Her daughter had recently learned about the signs of a stroke from a Facebook post. It didn’t take long for her to understand what was happening.
“I looked up at her and instantly saw that she lost her sparkle and had a blank stare,” Karen VanDorselaer says. “I moved in front of her and started the rapid fire of questions. I asked her to tell me my name. She couldn’t. I asked her to stick out her tongue. She couldn’t.”
Laverne’s face began to droop – another sign.
“Mom was unable to communicate, yet seemed hauntingly aware,” Karen says.
Moments later Laverne was in an ambulance with her daughter by her side. EMTs began transferring information to Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center so the stroke team would be ready the instant they arrived.
Traci VanDorselaer, Laverne’s daughter-in-law, sent Karen text messages with medical information and a list of Laverne’s current medications. She also began to rally the family together and assured Karen they would all be waiting at the hospital.
Laverne had come to the right place. Fort Sanders Regional is home to the region’s only Comprehensive Stroke Center and award-winning rehabilitation center, offering highly specialized care. Neurointerventional radiologist Rob Hixson, MD, performed an embolectomy, a procedure for the large of clots in the major arteries of the brain.
Inserting a catheter through the groin, Dr. Hixson is able to go into the brain, grasp the clot and pull it out. The procedure is known as the “The Lazarus Procedure” because the results are usually immediate.
“As soon as you get the clot out, patients start moving and talking to you,” Dr. Hixson says. “Every single time I do it I’m amazed at how well people do and how cool my job actually is.”
Laverne began speaking clearly, and regained full use of her body during the procedure. When she was reunited with her family, it was almost as if nothing had happened.
Now she’s on a mission to help others know about the signs of a stroke, and telling everyone how grateful she is to Dr. Hixson and everyone at the hospital who helped her in her hour of need.
“I would love to give each one of those people a hug!” Laverne says.