In the late afternoon of a Friday in June, retired teacher’s aid, Janice C. Silver was resting comfortably in her hospital bed in the Cardiac Unit at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. Three days before, her chest had been opened up for a heart valve replacement and everyone was relieved that her surgery had gone so well.
The phone beside her bed rang. It was a friend calling. Speaking into the phone, her friends noticed that Janice wasn’t really herself; she sounded a little confused.
Later that evening, Janice began to find it hard to talk. Her speech quickly worsened and then she lost control of her right arm. Her nurses recognized her symptoms right away and called in Columbia’s Stroke Team.
The team confirmed that Janice was indeed having a massive stroke. Using CT angiography, they were able to find the exact location of a blood clot that was cutting off the blood supply to the left side of her brain.
The team determined that the best treatment was to surgically remove the blood clot. Endovascular neurosurgeon Dr. Sean Lavine was on call that night and he was notified. Janice’s family was told that the procedure would be risky but it could save her life.
“I was told at around 12:00 am on Saturday morning that they needed a decision or she could be paralyzed,” says Janice’s daughter Kathy.
When Kathy met Dr. Lavine, she says, “There was something about that man. He exhibited kindness, peace and care as he described what he did and what the impact could be. He introduced himself with humility. I could sense he really had something that was a true gift of expertise and also character and he proved both.”
By 3:00 am Janice was in the operating room with Dr. Lavine. Using a brand new instrument, just approved by the FDA this year (in March 2012), called the Solitaire Flow Restoration Device, Dr. Lavine performed a minimally invasive surgery.
Using a thin catheter tube, through a tiny incision in Janice’s groin, Dr. Lavine threaded the device to the location of the clot in her brain. According to Dr. Lavine, “The device has a self-expanding, stent retriever design that compresses and traps the clot. The clot is then removed by withdrawing the device, thus reopening the blocked blood vessel.”
With blood flow restored to her brain, Janice was taken to the Neuro-ICU to recover.
“We were told she would not be able to speak as the stroke had hit that part of her brain,” remembers Kathy. But, she says, “Mom spoke as soon as she was done. Right away she could talk and move her right arm. We thought it was a miracle. We were so thankful and so happy. Mom said, ‘Dr. Lavine is my guardian angel.’”
After five days of recovery in the hospital, Janice was transferred to a rehabilitation facility for physical, occupational and speech therapy. Kathy sent out an email to family and friends, “I just got home after a fun ride with my mom in the ambulance to Kessler Institute in Chester, NJ. She has some scar tissue in the brain that has her right side a bit weak and therefore off balance. In rehab she is building endurance and strength and is walking with a walker and with someone behind or next to her for about 200 steps.”
Two weeks later, Janice was able to go home. She returned for a followup with Dr. Lavine, a week after that. “Janice made a dramatic and excellent recovery of her motor and speech function,” says Dr. Lavine. “We are so pleased she is doing so well.”
During this visit, in a clear voice, Janice was able to tell Dr. Lavine how well she was doing. “It is so wonderful to be able to talk and to be able to walk around. I can even make my own breakfast,” she said. Then, putting her walker aside and grinning from ear to ear, Janice walked down Dr. Lavine’s hallway with a lovely stable stride.