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Published on June 09, 2017
Howard Cronquist understood that his wife was asking him if he wanted to head outside to mow the lawn. But he couldn't answer her, no matter how he tried.
"I knew what I wanted to say, but I couldn't say it," the 75-year-old rural Brainerd man recalls.
Sharon Cronquist found it unusual that her husband wouldn't reply, despite her repeated questions. She realized he might be having a stroke, even though he didn't have any other symptoms. She promptly called their son, Darren, who agreed that Howard needed to get to the hospital.
"My son Darren said, ˜We're going to the hospital and I couldn't argue with him," Howard remembers of May 19, 2016.
Registered Nurse Deb Blower called a stroke alert just minutes after Howard arrived in the Emergency Department at Essentia Health-St. Joseph' Medical Center in Brainerd. A specially trained stroke team led by Dr. Nathan Laposky quickly assembled to care for Howard and expedite the tests needed to diagnosis a stroke. They also connected via video with Dr. Sheetal Patel, a consulting stroke neurologist at United Hospital in St. Paul.
When CAT scans showed several blood clots in a major artery on the right side of Howard' brain, the Stroke Code team began treatment with a powerful clot-busting drug called alteplase. Prompt action by the team meant Howard got the drug within 36 minutes of arriving at the hospital. The national benchmark is 60 minutes.
"Time is brain," Dr. Laposky explains. "The faster we can treat and open a blocked blood vessel, the better the outcome for the patient."
Dr. Laposky says the partnership with United Hospital brings specially trained stroke neurologists to the patient' bedside via high-tech video. "The stroke neurologists can recommend treatment based on what they're seeing and they see strokes every day," Dr. Laposky says. "They can see the subtle symptoms and know exactly where the problem is in the brain. They're invaluable."
Sharon says the team kept her and her son well informed. "I felt Howard was in good hands," she says. "I trusted them and their judgments."
Speech and Language Pathologist Kari Johnson visited Howard in the Intensive Care Unit the day after the stroke. "He was so frustrated that he couldn't communicate," she recalls. "I told him, â€˜I promise this will get better.' We looked at each other and I knew we were going to work together."
Since she works in both the hospital and clinic, Kari was Howard' only speech therapist. "Every day he was gaining ground, doing something he couldn't do before," she says. "I'm honored to be able to see him all the way through this therapy. He worked hard and graduated from therapy. He still comes to our monthly support group."
Howard spent just four days in the hospital and returned home under Sharon' care. He spent about a month doing speech therapy, physical therapy and occupational therapy. "When I speak now, nobody knows the difference," he says.
As he recovered, Howard faced challenges like getting dressed or remembering which way a nut screwed on to a bolt. "Sharon put a T-shirt on the bed and I did not know how to put it on," he remembers. "It took me three days to figure it out and it was a pretty happy day when I did."
Howard was able to return to chores on his cattle farm and work in his shop. At first, he needed to make some adaptations. For a short time, he had problems perceiving distance on his left side so he figured out a way to bale hay using only his right side. He asked his twin brother, Homer, to drive his 1926 Roadster pickup truck for their Thursday morning breakfast club. Later Howard asked a member of the color guard take his place pulling the American Legion float in the Fourth of July parade because Howard didn't want to risk anyone getting hurt if his reaction time faltered.
The Cronquists say they are grateful that Howard could receive all his care close to home. "We were happy to be here and to stay here," Sharon says. "That meant a lot."
The Center, in partnership with Essentia Health, is hosting a free dinner and stroke awareness education event on Monday, June 12 beginning at 5pm at The Center, 803 Kingwood Street, Brainerd.
The Minnesota Department of Health identified the Brainerd Lakes Area as a community that has a high rate of people ignoring initial symptoms of a stroke or not getting immediate care by calling 9-1-1. Time is brain when a stroke occurs, so minutes can make a difference in recovery. Essentia Health, St. Joseph' Medical Center Stroke Program Coordinator Nicole Anderson, RN, BSN, will share the symptoms of a stroke and what should be done to help someone or yourself if they occur.
A delicious dinner will be provided with seating limited to 100 people, so early registration is suggested. For more information about this free event for all generations and to register, call The Center at (218) 829-9345.
View a video of Howard Cronquist's story and stroke care at Essentia Health - St. Joseph's Medical Center >