February 3 had been like many nights for Linda Raterink. She fell asleep watching television in her living room chair.
She dined out earlier in the evening, celebrating her brother-in-law’s birthday with 13 family members. They laughed. They joked. They enjoyed.
After returning to their Walker, Michigan, home, she drifted off to sleep as she and her husband of 44 years, Joe, relaxed in front of the television. Joe went upstairs to bed.
When Raterink woke up several hours later, life as she knew it shattered.
“I woke up at 3 in the morning,” Raterink, 63, said. “I thought I had fallen asleep on my arm the wrong way. It was tingling and numb.”
But the arm wasn’t the only strange symptom she experienced in the wee hours.
“I couldn’t focus,” she said. “It was like I was having vertigo. And it was odd because I couldn’t walk. I managed to get to the couch, which was only about a foot away.”
Raterink yelled for her husband, Joe. He couldn’t hear her. So she got no response.
“I sat on the couch and kind of dozed back off,” she said. “He came downstairs about a quarter to eight in the morning. I told him I thought I had a stroke. He said, ‘Let’s call 911.’ I didn’t know at the time, but he said my eyes were crossed.”
‘Tortuous blood vessels’
Paramedics transported Raterink to Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital.
“When I got there they started doing all sorts of test on me,” she said. “They told me I had a blood clot and it had to be removed. They tried to go up through my groin (with a catheter to remove the clot), but in 1999, I had an aortic aneurysm. I had a graft from that and they couldn’t get past the graft.”
Next, Justin Singer, MD, Spectrum Health Medical Group director of vascular neuorosurgery, attempted to thread the catheter through an artery in her left wrist, but to no avail.
“They ended up going through my left elbow,” Raterink said. “He was able to get up in there and get the blood clot out. I remember waking up and my sister and her husband, my husband and my oldest daughter were there. Dr. Singer came in and talked to me, too.”
The following day, Dr. Singer returned.
“He showed me pictures of the blood clot and of the arteries he had cleaned out,” Raterink said.
Dr. Singer said Linda developed a blood clot in her basilar artery, which provides blood to the brain stem, a vital part of the brain.
“There was a great deal of time sensitivity to perform her intervention quickly and open up her clogged artery,” Dr. Singer said.
She recently finished occupational and speech therapy, but continues physical therapy.
“I’m not quite 100 percent steady yet,” Raterink said.
But overall, she’s pleased with her progress.
“The only thing I’ve got is a little bit of weakness in my left arm and left leg,” she said. “PT is definitely helping. I used a walker my first week out of the hospital. I used a cane for one day, then that was it.”
Back to normal
Life has pretty much returned to normal. She’s not certain if she’ll return to work in the accounting department for Kent County.
“That’s something my doctor and I have to discuss,” she said.
Raterink spends her days reading and walking. She helps organize charity golf outings and is involved with the Trevor Slot Foundation, established in honor of a police officer killed in the line of duty in 2011.
“I had met him once and I got to know his wife before she passed away,” Raterink said.
Slot’s widow, Kim, died of cancer in 2015, leaving their two young children.
Knowing the family’s grief has made Raterink all the more grateful.
“I thank God every day for looking out for me,” she said. “I’m just thankful to be where somebody could help me. I hope to be able to do pretty much everything I was doing before.”
She recently volunteered in the Young 5’s art class where her grandson, Johnathan, is a student.
“They took squares and turned them into trucks with circles for the wheels,” Raterink said.
That’s how her life has been lately—more mobile, more active, more forward motion.
The milestones are mounting.
She recently got cleared to drive again. She went to the grocery store by herself the following weekend.
“I was a little nervous, because you don’t know if you’ll be able to do it,” she said. “In the same respect, you’re really happy because you can do this stuff again. When I was doing OT, it was like doing dishes for the first time. I baked some cookies—little things that you take for granted.”
She’s not doing much of that these days—taking things, or people, or life, for granted.
Every moment is born anew, each more precious than the one before.
“I’m just very thankful,” Raterink said. “I’m very, very thankful. I can’t even tell you how thankful I am.”
Dr. Singer said because of the prompt action and successful procedure, Raterink is doing well.
“She had minimal stroke after the blood clot in her brain and as a result she has an overall good prognosis relating to this episode,” he said. “Her stroke doctors will now focus on secondary prevention to help reduce her risk of having another one.”
Raterink’s prognosis is promising.
“I think she has good opportunity to continue to improve to a point where she will have minimal neurologic deficit,” Dr. Singer said.