Donella’s story: Back from a stroke

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

By: Jeff Ash

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Less than a year after having a stroke, Donella Payne is back in her garden near Pulaski, tending to the fruits and vegetables she so loves to grow.


“She made a remarkable recovery,” says Dr. Ziad Darkhabani, an Aurora BayCare interventional neurologist. “Her prognosis is absolutely great.”


In almost the same breath, Darkhabani says Payne’s story is a cautionary tale.


“She was very lucky,” he says. “A stroke of this kind is often a warning sign.”


As the long Fourth of July 2016 weekend started, Payne felt run down. Her right arm was weak, and she felt some numbness. Payne, who is in her mid-60s, figured she was just overtired on that Friday night. She went to bed. On Saturday, she woke up with a raging headache. Her speech was slurred. She couldn’t write. She had trouble with balance.


Knowing none of that was normal, Payne called urgent care. She was told to call 911 because her symptoms sounded like a stroke, and stroke patients must get immediate care. Payne’s husband, Dann, drove her more than 25 miles from their home to Aurora BayCare Medical Center in Green Bay.


“It is very important to call 911 to activate the stroke team for care. When stroke happens, every second counts,” Darkhabani says.


“Her symptoms were minimal. She wasn’t severely affected. But she had garbled speech and showed some of the very important signs of stroke.”


Payne was diagnosed with a small vessel stroke, which is caused by blockage of a small artery supplying blood to the brain. Surgery wasn’t needed. However, clot-busting medication couldn’t be used because too much time had passed between the stroke and her arrival at the hospital.


In the spring of 2017, nine months after her stroke, Payne completed physical, cognitive and occupational therapy.



“They’ve got me back involved with things I’m passionate about,” says Payne, a retired social worker.


“I have come a long way,” she says. “I still don’t have the stamina I had. I still get tired, but I’m off the walker completely. Cognitively, I’m back pretty close to what I was. I’m back to writing and doing the bills, but I have to pace myself.”


Payne works out at the West Side YMCA in Howard and walks every day on her family’s eight-acre spread, where she grows potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage, carrots, beets, cucumbers, honey dew melons, watermelons and more. She does a lot of canning. She also makes jellies and jams.


“I’m gardening again,” she says. “I’m baking again. My kids and grandchildren” – four kids, nine grandchildren – “are always requesting something.”


In fact, one of them just asked for peach cobbler.


Payne says that with a proud smile, grateful that they ask, grateful that she’s again able to make it.

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BayCare Clinic,, is the largest physician-owned specialty-care clinic in northeastern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It is based in Green Bay, Wisconsin. BayCare Clinic offers expertise in more than 20 specialties, with more than 100 physicians serving in 16 area communities. BayCare Clinic is a joint partner in Aurora BayCare Medical Center, a 167-bed, full-service hospital. Follow BayCare Clinic on Facebook and Twitter.