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Down Time at the Right Time

Posted on December 17, 2020 in Patient Stories

Bill Smeltzer hikingIt could have happened on a rugged trail in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. It could have happened on the mountain trails of Machu Picchu in Peru.

Bill Smeltzer, 59, from Gainesville, Virginia, had planned some exciting hiking trips with his wife for 2020, but those plans were canceled because of the pandemic. He came to Knoxville to visit his mother instead.

It turned out to be the biggest adventure of all. Smeltzer was seated at his mother’s kitchen table when he suffered a stroke.

“I was sitting upright with my fork and my knife in my hand, but my mom was speaking to me and I wasn’t responding, I was just kind of staring at her,” Smeltzer says.

Smeltzer’s mother is a retired nurse and a graduate of Fort Sanders School of Nursing. She says her son had classic symptoms.

“When I spoke to him, he couldn’t reply,” Anne Smeltzer says. “The right side of his face was drooping with his mouth open. I asked him to lift his right arm and he was not able to.”

Bill Smeltzer planned to ride a motorcycle home to Virginia after a few days in Knoxville. He rode an ambulance to Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center instead.

“When I got there, everyone was so responsive and so clearly focused and knew what to do,” he says. “It was clear that I was in the right place at the right time.”

Bill Smeltzer riding his motorcycle

One of Smeltzer’s doctors, neurohospitalist Jennifer Yanoschak, MD, explains that medical professionals in the hospital work as a team from the moment a stroke patient arrives.

“A stroke alert is put out to everyone from the ER docs to the neurologists, radiologists and pharmacists,” Dr. Yanoschak says. “Then we all work together.”

Within minutes Smeltzer was receiving the clot-busting drug tPA. As the region’s only Comprehensive Stroke and Rehabilitation Center, Fort Sanders Regional is able to offer this medication along with other cutting-edge tools for stroke diagnosis, life-saving treatment, and restorative care at Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center.

There is still more to Smeltzer’s story. After an MRI, he was told that a problem had been detected in his heart and he would need a stent emplacement.

“As it turns out I had 100 percent blockage in my left internal carotid and 80 percent blockage on my right,” Smeltzer says. “That was a real gut punch to me because I consider myself healthy.”

Although the day had been full of unwelcome surprises, Smeltzer knew he had a lot to be thankful for. Three weeks after being discharged from Fort Sanders Regional, he was hiking mountain trails again with a new perspective.

“I could have been on a mountain in Colorado, I could have been on Machu Picchu or riding my motorcycle up the interstate when the stroke hit,” Smeltzer says. “Instead, I was sitting calmly with my retired RN mother, 15 minutes from a regional medical center with a stroke and specialty care capability. Because all these things played out the way they did — here I am.”