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Summer 2012 - Miracle After Massive Stroke

How a tiny device, a can-do attitude and strong faith led to one man’s amazing recovery

H2H - Summer 2012 miracle

Steve Toth, an extension entomologist and IPM coordinator at North Carolina State University (NCSU) and associate director of the Southern Region Integrated Pest Management Center, travels a great deal for his work. On a trip to Savannah, Ga., in January 2011, Steve experienced chest pain but decided to wait until he returned to Raleigh for a diagnosis.

Once home, he sought medical treatment. Test results showed multiple clots in his lungs. Later, another appeared in his groin. Steve was prescribed blood thinners and by the middle of August, the blood clots were gone.

Still, Steve’s health worsened. Steve went to see his doctor who started him on antibiotics. Then, Steve had an odd complaint. “He had numbness and tingling in his right leg and foot,” said his wife, Libbie. “We read the pamphlet that came with the antibiotic and it said that tingling and numbness in the extremities was a possible side effect.” Steve stopped taking the medication, and, until Sept. 1, 2011, he was feeling much better.

That day, things changed quickly. “Steve attempted to put his soda can on the counter,” said Libbie. “When he did, it tipped over and poured all over the floor. I looked up and Steve’s eyes were rolling back in his head and he was struggling to stand.” Libbie knew what was happening. “I had read about stroke and heart attack symptoms; he could not smile, did not speak his name and could not stick out his tongue. I knew he was having a stroke, so I called 9-1-1 immediately.”

First responders took Steve and Libbie to the WakeMed Raleigh Campus Emergency Department. Steve had a massive stroke and Libbie’s actions helped Steve quickly get to the hospital, tested and into treatment – a critical factor to surviving stroke and successful recovery.

From Dr. Susan Glenn, a neurologist with Raleigh Neurology, and Dr. Matthew Hook, an interventional cardiologist with Wake Heart & Vascular, Libbie learned that Steve’s stroke was likely the result of undiagnosed atrial fi brillation – a heart rhythm disturbance that can lead to stroke. Dr. Hook had a frank conversation with Libbie. “He told me that he thought Steve would either die or would spend the rest of his life in a nursing home,” said Libbie. “But he also told me there was a risky procedure he could try. Dr. Glenn reassured me and my decision to consent to the procedure was made.”

The procedure Dr. Hook performed – a thrombus aspiration – involves advanced technology known as the Penumbra System aspiration catheter. “We thread the catheter through the impacted artery to the location of the blood clot,” explained Dr. Hook. “The Penumbra device at the end of the catheter uses suction to pull the clot into the device so we can remove it.”

“The procedure didn’t take long at all,” said Libbie. Still, Steve’s outcome was uncertain.

But a pleasant surprise awaited Libbie in Steve’s hospital room. “The morning after Steve’s procedure, I walked into his room and he said ‘Hi’,” said Libbie. Steve also knew who she was as well as their adult children, his parents and friends.

The day after his procedure, Steve could move a finger. In less than two days, he could stand and sit in a chair. A week later, he was walking with a walker. Less than nine months after his stroke, Steve is working 40 hours a week. He is cleared to drive, travel and play sports and he hopes to resume teaching next year. “He still has some aphasia, but is making amazing progress,” explained Libbie.

What does the future hold? Steve is determined and has a positive attitude. When he is told how well he is doing he replies, “I have a way to go, but I’m getting there.” There is no question in Steve’s or Libbie’s mind that he will make a complete recovery.