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It can happen to anyone

WMH only hospital in Waukesha County performing mechanical thrombolysis

mechanical thrombolysis catheterWhen Tracy Gerber recently fell at her Waukesha home and found herself wedged between a couch and ottoman, she thought it was strange that she couldn’t get up. She never imagined she was having a stroke. When her husband arrived home several hours later and helped her up, he saw that her left side was paralyzed and immediately called 911.

Doctors at Waukesha Memorial Hospital confirmed with a CT scan that Tracy was having a stroke. She was not eligible for the clot-busting drug tPA because it had been too long since her stroke had first begun.

Interventional radiologist Robert Lesniak, MD, performed mechanical thrombolysis on Tracy. It’s a minimally invasive procedure that involves inserting a long catheter into the carotid artery, threading it to the brain, removing the clot and restoring blood flow.

Prior to the procedure, the CT scan showed no blood flow on the right side of Tracy’s brain, according to neurologist Stanya Smith, MD. Afterward, Tracy’s brain returned to full activity and her left arm and leg soon returned to full functioning. An acute stroke often leaves patients with permanent physical impairments such as paralysis and difficulty speaking. It can also result in death. “I have no residual effects,” Tracy said. “It’s absolutely amazing!”

Waukesha Memorial is the only hospital in Waukesha County performing mechanical thrombolysis. Five interventional radiologists are certified to do the procedure at Waukesha Memorial

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Procedure at Waukesha Memorial saves 35-year-old stroke victim’s life

Tracy Gerber
Tracy Gerber

By Sarah Pryor
Freeman Staff
TOWN OF VERNON – Tracy Gerber remembers everything about Oct. 14.

She remembers working on her laptop, making herself lunch and sitting back down on the couch in her family room. Then she remembers falling out of the chair and being caught between a chair and her ottoman – and not being able to get up.

“I thought I didn’t have traction on the bottom of my slippers because they were slick,” Gerber said. When her husband, Jeff, came home four hours later and she was still stuck, and the left side of her face had begun to droop, the Gerbers realized something was wrong.

Tracy Gerber couldn’t believe it when the 911 dispatcher told her she had probably had a stroke. With no family history of illness and a clean bill of health herself, 35-year-old Tracy Gerber didn’t seem like a likely candidate.

After a series of tests in the Emergency Room at Waukesha Memorial Hospital, neurologist Dr. Stanya Smithdetermined that Tracy Gerber had suffered a stroke on the right side of her brain, and that time was of the essence.

“If you suspect someone is having a stroke, the patient needs to come as soon as possible, within an hour would be best, because CT scans, blood work, those things take time,” Smith said. “The clock is ticking.”

Catheter to the brain

Smith said that since several hours had passed since Tracy Gerber’s stroke, the window for administering drugs had passed, and the only solution would be a procedure in which a tiny catheter is inserted through the groin and threaded all the way up to the brain where it basically vacuums out the clot.

“She had good evidence that there was a large amount of salvageable brain if we were able to clear the blood clot,” said Dr. Robert Lesniak, who performed the rare procedure. “She had a lot of good things going for her, not the least of which was her young age.”

Tracy Gerber said she really never felt like anything was wrong – she felt like she was moving parts of her body, but her left side was entirely paralyzed.

Lingering effects

“Every stroke is different, and having the stroke on the right side of her brain, she didn’t realize how bad it was,” Smith said. “She’ll never realize how bad her symptoms were, but her family and I know.”

It only took five days in the hospital for Gerber to get well enough to go home, which included intensive therapy to re-teach her to walk and brush her teeth lefthanded.

Two months later, she has hardly any lingering residual effects from the stroke, aside from extreme difficulty multi-tasking.

“My physical therapist told me to walk while bouncing a balloon from my right hand to my left hand and saying the names of states. It was so hard,” she said. “But I think we all multi-task too much sometimes, anyway.”

Signs of a stroke

Now the Gerbers hope Tracy’s story can be used as a cautionary tale for others.

“It can happen to anyone,” she said.

Signs of stroke include speech problems, vision problems like not being able to see out of one eye, numbness, tingling or weakness on one side, weakness on one side, onset dizziness and balance problems, Smith said.

As for Tracy Gerber, she’ll continue to be monitored at least once a year moving forward, since it’s still unclear what caused her stroke.

“She had a great outcome,” Lesniak said. “For me, one of the most gratifying moments in my career was when she climbed out of bed a few days after the procedure walked over to me with a big smile on her face and gave me a hug.”