Playing baseball in the yard with his two sons. Mowing the lawn. Hunting. Fishing.
These kinds of simple activities have taken on new meaning for Chad Thompson.
The Hersey, Michigan, resident is appreciating the joys of everyday life, ever since quick action and treatment helped him recover from a stroke in April.
“It was very, very scary,” Chad, 39, said. “It literally felt like I was dying. It feels like your brain isn’t working right, like it’s dying—or you’re dying. Body parts aren’t moving right and you’ve lost your ability to speak properly.”
The stroke came on without warning.
Chad and his older brother, Kevin, had just finished trimming some apple trees on Kevin’s property in Paris, Michigan. It was a warm, early spring afternoon and the two brothers, along with their children, had finished working for the day.
At about 3:45 p.m., as they drove a utility vehicle back to the house, Chad suddenly noticed a slight change in vision.
“I wasn’t very concerned yet at that point,” he said. “Just enough to notice that something felt different with my body.”
As Kevin put tools away in his garage, Chad began to have trouble holding his gloves and sunglasses.
“I started dropping stuff and thought maybe I had too much sun,” he said.
That’s when Kevin took notice.
“I heard Chad say something like, ‘Oh boy,’ or something,” Kevin said. “It sounded kind of strange.”
Kevin’s wife, Cora, came out of the house and immediately noticed Chad didn’t look or sound right.
“She asked him a couple of questions and what came out of his mouth didn’t make any sense,” Kevin said. “It was more like mumbling.”
Cora, a medical technician, suspected a stroke. She told Kevin he needed to get Chad to the hospital right away.
They got into Kevin’s truck and headed to Spectrum Health Big Rapids Hospital, about 10 miles away.
As Kevin drove, he asked Chad how he felt.
“He tried to say something but it didn’t make any sense,” Kevin said. “And he had a look of frustration on his face. So I said, ‘Never mind, don’t worry about it—just hang tight, we’ll be there in a couple of minutes.’
“I knew the situation was urgent and he needed medical attention right away.”
Cora, meanwhile, had called the hospital emergency department, which allowed the team there to ready for Chad. Upon his arrival, the team members whisked him into an exam room.
“There couldn’t have been less than 10 people in there,” Kevin said. “They were going through a bunch of tests.”
Chad could scarcely respond to questions.
“He would have answers like ‘blue sky.’ … The answer would come out and then he’d roll his eyes in frustration,” Kevin said. “He was trying to say one thing but something else would come out.”
‘I was scared’
Big Rapids Hospital recently received Primary Stroke Center Certification from The Joint Commission, recognizing the hospital team’s ability to treat acute stroke patients to ensure the best possible outcomes for long-term success.
A CT scan showed a blood clot in the left side of Chad’s brain.
Chad’s wife, Meghan, gave the emergency medicine physician approval to administer the clot-busting drug tenecteplase.
An ambulance then transferred Chad to Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital.
On the way, a paramedic continued to evaluate Chad by asking him questions.
He continued to have trouble answering.
“I was looking out of the back window of the ambulance and wondering if I’m going to be stuck this way and this will be my new normal,” Chad said. “I was scared, obviously.”
About halfway to Grand Rapids, as the paramedic continued asking questions, Chad’s responses started to make sense.
The clot-busting drug was working.
“I was happy to hear that,” Chad said.
After another evaluation at Butterworth Hospital, Chad went into surgery for a thrombectomy to remove the clot.
Spectrum Health neurosurgeon Justin Singer, MD, placed a catheter into the femoral artery in Chad’s right groin, allowing him to remove the 2-centimeter clot.
Every minute counts when someone is suffering a stroke, Dr. Singer said—and an early arrival for medical attention offers more treatment options.
“Time lost is brain lost,” Dr. Singer said.
It’s vital that people recognize the symptoms of a stroke, Dr. Singer said. He offered the acronym BE FAST to help:
- Balance: Sudden loss or balance or coordination
- Eyes: Sudden trouble seeing from one eye, or one side
- Face: Facial weakness or numbness, an uneven smile or weakness on one side
- Arms: Arm or leg weakness or numbness, including an inability to raise both arms evenly
- Speech: Slurred speech or difficulty expressing words or understanding conversations
- Time: Time is brain—and every minute counts. Call 911
Chad’s timely treatment played a key role in his recovery.
By his first exam after surgery, Chad had regained his speech. He also no longer felt numbness on the right side of his body.
He stayed in the neuro intensive care unit overnight for observation and continued testing. The next day he moved to the stroke recovery floor, where his symptoms steadily improved.
He had no signs of physical or neurological problems. Doctors released him the following day.
“Everything went my way,” Chad said. “There couldn’t have been a better scenario lined up or planned than the way it went—every step of it. Literally within minutes of recognizing what was going on, I went straight to the hospital, straight from there to the other hospital and into surgery.”
He’ll get no argument from his brother, Kevin.
“I’m extremely grateful he got treatment in time,” Kevin said. “I’m learning in these types of situations time is critical—to recognize the symptoms and get treatment as soon as possible.
“That clot-busting drug is a lifesaver. I was glad my wife was there and was able to notice the signs right away. Everything couldn’t have worked out better.”
Just two years apart in age, Chad and Kevin have always been close. They’re looking forward to many more years hunting and fishing together.
When Chad returned home, he worried he might have another stroke.
“This was the worst, scariest thing that I’ve ever experienced in my life and I was imaging it happening again,” he said. “It was causing some anxiousness.”
Those feelings subsided once he got back into the swing of things. He’s now back to living life to its fullest.
He enjoys taking his sons, Caidin, 15, and Cylis, 7, to their sporting events.
“I feel great now,” Chad said. “There are no physical deficits whatsoever. I planted my garden. I trimmed my own fruit trees. I’m driving my zero-turn mower. I’m 100% back to doing the same things I did before.”
Ultimately, the stroke hasn’t slowed Chad down.
But he knows a fast response and quick treatment made the difference.
He urges others to stay alert.
“Be aware of the signs,” Chad said. “If someone notices those types of things going on—speech changes, blurred vision—(or) if you even have a thought someone is having a stroke, get them to a hospital as soon as possible.
“Stroke doesn’t discriminate by age.”