Dick’s story: ‘Miracle’ stroke care
Monday, June 17, 2019
Darlene Lucka is modest, but she’s proud of the way she responded when she saw her husband thrashing in bed in the middle of the night. She calmly and quietly sized up the situation, then took care of business.
Dick Lucka, who always made sure he was covered up – especially on that cold February night – had kicked off the covers. His right side was paralyzed. He couldn’t talk. His eyes were glazed over.
Even at 3 a.m., Darlene instinctively knew Dick was having a stroke.
“When I saw, I knew right away what it was,” she said. “I knew enough about a stroke that he had to have help … so I kept my cool and it worked out.”
Darlene roused their son, who was visiting their home on Anderson Lake near Mountain, Wisconsin. They called an ambulance from Gillett, some 20 miles away. That turned out to be a blessing.
As soon as the emergency medical service crew arrived and confirmed that they were dealing with stroke, they knew exactly where to go. The ambulance carrying Dick – Darlene also went along, still in her pajamas – headed for Aurora BayCare Medical Center in Green Bay, more than 60 miles away.
“We didn’t know about Aurora BayCare, but the ambulance driver said, ‘We take all our stroke patients there’,” Darlene said.
Aurora BayCare Medical Center is the only certified Comprehensive Stroke Center in northeastern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. It has the area’s largest team of neurointervention specialists, providing around-the-clock care for stroke patients. It also trains area EMS providers on how to recognize and properly treat stroke.
When the ambulance arrived at the hospital in the wee hours of that February morning, one of those specialists – Dr. Ziad Darkhabani – was waiting for Dick and Darlene.
“He met us at the same time as we got there,” Darlene says.
A stroke is a brain attack. Strokes are caused by a blockage to a blood vessel supplying oxygen and nutrients to the brain. That loss of oxygen and nutrients impairs the abilities controlled by that area of the brain.
Darkhabani, who is an Aurora BayCare interventional neurologist, reviewed a CT scan, saw a blockage in a large artery in the brain and knew immediately what needed to be done.
Darkhabani performed a mechanical thrombectomy, removing a blood clot from the left side of Dick’s brain. That’s a minimally-invasive procedure using a small incision in the groin to thread a catheter through the artery to the clot. A stent retriever – a small mesh-like device – is inserted and expanded to the size of the artery wall. The clot is surrounded, captured and removed.
“The most important thing is you get here fast. Then we can really help you,” Darkhabani told Dick after the procedure.
“(Darkhabani) came out and he had white paper and he held it against his chest, and he’s standing there, drawing and explaining what he did,” Darlene says. “He did a really good job.”
Dick bounced back quickly. Within a day, his speech returned and he regained the use of his right side.
Darkhabani did several tests to try to identify the cause for Dick’s stroke, but he found no other clot or heart defect. Darkhabani suspected atrial fibrillation or an electrical defect in Dick’s heart, so he consulted with a colleague.
Dr. Vinay Mehta, a cardiac electrophysiologist with Aurora BayCare Cardiology, implanted a loop recorder to monitor Dick’s heart rhythm. The paper clip-sized device is placed just under the skin on the left side of the chest.
After the loop recorded was implanted, Dick walked out of the hospital and returned home to Anderson Lake.
“It was like a miracle,” Darlene says.
So, too, was Dick’s recovery, which was remarkably fast and robust for a man in his early 80s. Because of the fast action of the Aurora BayCare stroke team, he needed only minor outpatient therapy to ensure he could safely get around the house.
“He’s had a good recovery because we got there fast, and he had excellent care,” Darlene says.
Within six weeks of his stroke, Dick was walking twice a day on the road along the lake and helping split, stack and haul wood on his family’s tree farm.
“It’s something I love to do. It keeps me busy,” Dick says.
Dr. Ziad Darkhabani of Aurora BayCare Interventional Neurology sees patients in Green Bay, Marinette and Oshkosh. To request an appointment, call 920-288-8044 or do so online.
Dr. Vinay Mehta of Aurora BayCare Cardiology sees patients in Green Bay and Two Rivers. To request an appointment, call 920-288-8311 or do so online.