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Jean Nicks

Quick action, 'wonderful' care saves stroke patient

Standing on her deck in September 2014, Jean Nicks lit a cigarette while she waited for her husband to emerge from their house in the Village of Boaz, just outside Richland Center, Wis.

At that moment, pain gripped the left side of her face.

"It was beyond a headache," Jean says. "It was crippling pain."

Her husband, Kenneth, found her seconds later and recognized that his wife wasn't suffering one of the chronic migraines she often endured.

Jean was struggling to walk and talk.

"We need to get you to an emergency room," he told her.

The Nicks sped to nearby Richland Center Hospital, where they learned that Jean had a ruptured aneurysm in her brain and was having a hemorrhagic stroke. Knowing rapid access to expert stroke care ensures the best outcomes for patients, medical staff readied Jean for transportation to the Advanced Primary Stroke Center at Gundersen Health System.

Within minutes, MedLink Air lifted Jean to La Crosse.

There, neurointerventionalist Mouhammed Kabbani, MD, performed a life-saving brain coiling procedure. During the minimally invasive surgery, Dr. Kabbani threaded a catheter from Jean's groin up into the aneurysm, and filled her ruptured blood vessel with tiny platinum coils.

"The goal is that once you put those coils in there, the blood stagnates and clots off," Dr. Kabbani says.

It worked.

Jean returned home just two weeks later with few lasting side effects.

Most patients stay in the hospital between three and four weeks, Dr. Kabbani says, with many spending additional time on a long and bumpy road back to health in a nursing home or extensive therapy, if they beat the odds and survive a rupture in the first place.

In the nearly three years after her stroke, Jean has had additional coils and a stent inserted, and she remains closely monitored by her medical team as a precaution. She has not smoked since, a decision that has reduced the chances of her suffering another stroke.

While the now 58-year-old recognized her life was in danger when she felt her aneurysm burst, not all stroke patients have the same kind of clarity when symptoms present.

Learn the signs, advises Dr. Kabbani, and don't ignore them or delay treatment.

"It's really important to spread the word that strokes and transient ischemic attacks (sometimes called mini-strokes) are emergencies," he says. "You need to call 911. Stroke doesn't necessarily hurt, so sometimes people think, ‘Well, my arm is numb and not working very well, maybe I slept on it. I'll wait and see.' That's what a lot of people think, but they need to understand the symptoms of stroke."

The types of strokes include:

  • Ischemic stroke (part of the brain loses blood flow) with sudden loss of neurological function
  • Hemorrhagic stroke (bleeding within the brain), which Jean suffered. In addition to or instead of the symptoms of a typical stroke, patients frequently experience a sudden and severe headache often accompanied by nausea and vomiting.

Jean credits the fact that today she is able to work full-time, serve as president of the Village of Boaz and enjoy woodworking and remodeling her retirement home to the quick action her husband took when he believed something was wrong, as well as the treatment she received from Richland Center Hospital, MedLink Air and Gundersen.

"I owe a lot to the nursing staff and the doctors at Gundersen," Jean says. "I had wonderful care."

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