Published on May 26, 2021

Stroke awareness is important especially when symptoms aren’t obvious

Essentia Health patient benefits from high quality stroke care

Stroke survivor, Kevin Dean, an older gentleman with white hair stands in his home.

It’s important to remember that a stroke isn’t always obvious. In some cases, patients show no symptoms, but rather have a gut feeling that something isn’t right.

This was the case for Grand Forks, N.D., resident, Kevin Dean, who was flown to Essentia Health for immediate and expert care which was instrumental in Dean’s survival and recovery after a stroke.

Two days after his 65th birthday, Dean woke up and didn’t feel well. He didn’t have symptoms of anything specific, but he described it as “just feeling off.” Thinking maybe he had picked up a bug, he took a nap to see if that helped him feel better.

In about an hour when he woke up, nothing had changed. While he didn’t feel worse, Dean knew that something was not right. He asked his wife, Lacey, to take him to the emergency room.

After a CT scan, the emergency department doctor delivered news that stopped Dean in his tracks and set off a chain of events that likely saved his life.

“The doctor told me I had a stroke,” recalls Dean. “I was shocked, you could have knocked me over with a feather.” Dean said, “As the doctor finished telling me what had happened, a crew arrived and I was strapped onto a gurney. I jokingly asked if we were going somewhere. My joke was met with the serious answer that I needed to be air lifted to Essentia Health in Fargo for immediate care.”

At one point, Dean was asked to perform a hand exercise where he tried to touch each of his fingers to his thumb. He realized he could barely even move his fingers, much less touch his pinky to his thumb. “That was when it really hit me that I needed expert care,” remembers Dean. “I was admitted to the hospital and, after an MRI, the doctor came in to explain what was going on.”

With the MRI, Dr. Kiron Thomas, interventional neurologist at Essentia Health, discovered that Dean’s vertebral artery, one of the four main vessels in the neck that bring blood to the brain, was incredibly – and unusually – small and narrow. “This made an intervention dangerous and it would likely cause more damage,” shares Dr. Thomas. The blockage caused an ischemic stroke, one of three types of stroke, caused by blockage in an artery that supplies blood to the brain. Thankfully, Dean’s blockage was treated with medication to remove it.

While hospitalized, Dean was started on physical and occupational therapy. “I remember thinking they were asking me to do such simple things, yet I found myself not able to do them,” said Dean. “This really gave me pause.”

“I couldn’t walk. I actually couldn’t bend my ankle in order to walk. I remember those first few steps using a walker and going very slowly. I was grateful for the therapists and nurses who were there with me for each step,” Dean said. Dean was told that he would have to train another part of his brain to do what the part that was damaged in the stroke had previously done. “Was that even possible? Could I do that?” Dean said, “I was willing to try!”

Along with the expert care at Essentia’s Comprehensive Stroke Center, his positive attitude and competitive spirit gave Dean the push he needed to work hard on recovery. When he was asked to walk to the end of the nurses’ station, he walked all the way around it.

Now, about three months out from his stroke, Dean has been successful in teaching another part of his brain to do those basic tasks and has regained complete use of his hand and foot most affected by the stroke. While he still tires easily and knows his stamina will be the last thing to come back, he’s thankful to be alive. “I’m one lucky guy,” he said.

Essentia Health was the first medical center in North Dakota and our region to receive comprehensive stroke center certification from the DNV GL-Healthcare, a world-leading certification body. This is the highest level of accreditation a hospital can receive, and it affirms Essentia’s readiness to handle a full range of stroke-related medical complications.

To learn more about the Comprehensive Stroke Center at Essentia Health, please visit our Interventional Neurology page or talk with your primary care provider about your risk factors.

Additional Content:
Whenever someone experiences any sudden change or their inner self is telling them that something isn’t right, err on the side of caution and call 9-1-1 or get to the emergency department right away.

The acronym BE FAST can be helpful to identify a stroke.

  • Balance: any sudden loss of balance without a known cause
  • Eyes: any sudden eye change such as blurry or double vision or vision loss
  • Face: sudden drooping of one side
  • Arms: sudden weakness in one arm or leg
  • Speech: sudden change in speech such as slurred or incorrect speech
  • Time: call 9-1-1

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