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Back to work one week after stroke

November 8, 2018

Rapid response team saves competitive runner from neurological damage

Debbie Marzano shows off a medal from a 2018 triathlon held in Wauconda.

A picture of health, Debbie Marzano, 53, of Schaumburg hadn’t needed medical care for anything more than an injured Achilles tendon, common among runners like herself. A vegetarian for 25 years, she started competing in races in her 30s.

“I’m a personal trainer so I was always very involved in fitness,” Debbie says. “Running was just one thing that I seemed to excel at.”

In early October, Debbie participated in a 10K race in Long Grove. It wasn’t anything unusual. She’d done many of these races before and regularly places in the top three of her age group, if not in the top three overall finishers. What was unusual was how she started to feel a short time after crossing the finish line.

“Everything just started getting fuzzy for me, blurry,” she recalls. “I sat down and somebody offered me something to eat. I remember eating a chocolate chip cookie and that’s the last thing I remember before waking up in the ambulance.”

Medical watchdogs

The day of the race, a CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) was manning a First Aid tent. Volunteer CERT member and NCH Clinical Care Staff Nurse Kathy Schildkraut, R.N., CNRN, CCRN, SCRN was trained to watch for signs of dehydration, illness or injury among the runners.

“We immediately identified that she was very weak and minimally responsive,” Kathy says. “We assisted her to lie on the ground and notified the Long Grove Emergency Medical Services.”

CERT monitored her pulse and breathing and gave Debbie oxygen while gathering information from her fellow runners. Soon, an ambulance transported her to the NCH Emergency Department (ED).

New drug changes everything

The NCH ED determined that Debbie suffered an ischemic stroke. Because of a relatively new drug called tPA, a clot- busting medication administered to Debbie within 90 minutes of her symptoms, she was able to avoid neurological damage. Untreated strokes from a large blood clot can cause a loss of 1.9 billion brain cells per minute. tPA can be used up to 4.5 hours after stroke symptoms occur.

“People who would have otherwise had challenging deficits are now left with little or no disabilities,” says Brian Doane, M.D., Assistant Medical Director of the NCH ED. “It’s truly saving lives.”

Debbie noted how she felt after getting tPA.

“It was like somebody flipped a switch. I could respond. I could talk. It was like night and day. It was crazy.”

Dr. Doane says tPA has completely changed the way ED physicians approach neurological emergencies.

“It works by dissolving the small clots that can block blood vessels in the brain and cause strokes,” he says. “If given early enough, it can prevent damage to the brain tissues and result in more complete recovery than was previously possible.”

Debbie was discharged two days after her arrival at NCH. She took a week off of work to rest, went back part-time the following week, and returned to full-time the week after that. Other than having to wear a heart monitor for a month and schedule a follow-up visit with a neurologist, she’s back to normal and ready to enter her next race.

“I was in the right place because they were able to treat me so quickly, and I really think that tPA made a difference,” she says.

Debbie’s now had two positive experiences at NCH, one for Achilles tendon surgery, which went well, and one for stroke care at the only hospital in the state of Illinois to receive Healthgrades™ Neuroscience, Stroke and Cranial Neurosurgery Specialty Excellence Awards for two consecutive years (2017-2018).

“From the first responders to the doctors who treated me, everyone who I came across was great,” Debbie says. “I was very lucky.”

Find out more about stroke care at NCH. Learn the signs of stroke and think F.A.S.T.:

  • FACE – Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
  • ARM – Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • SPEECH – Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Does the speech sound slurred or strange?
  • TIME – If you observe any of these signs, call 911.
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