“Three very scary days.”
That’s how Melissa Kemp, 56, remembers her experience starting on December 14, 2021, when she woke up and realized she couldn’t move her right hand. She had been sick the night before, throwing up for hours due to what she thought was a virus.
She immediately called her husband, Lee Kemp, who had left for work, but realized she couldn’t talk. Thankfully, he was able to figure out she was trying to talk to him and rushed home immediately.
Melissa knew what her symptoms were telling her – she was having a stroke. She got dressed and found some aspirin in her medicine cabinet and, when her husband arrived, they rushed to Saint Joseph East, which is a little over a mile from their home. The medical team “figured out pretty quickly they needed to do an MRI,” Melissa said.
They also administered the clot-dissolving medication, tPA (for tissue plasminogen activator), quickly. The medication must be administered within hours of symptom onset. “We were sort of guessing, because I had been asleep and then I woke up and realized I couldn't move my hand,” she said.
The MRI revealed a blockage in her left carotid artery, so Melissa was scheduled for an endarterectomy surgery, but the use of tPA meant she needed to wait several days to undergo the procedure. Melissa was transferred to the intensive care unit at Saint Joseph Hospital on complete bed rest.
“They were very efficient at Saint Joe East and I was very thankful that the neurologist and the surgeon were both there on site, that they took care of me from Saint Joe East to Saint Joe main and I think that was just God’s blessing that they were there,” Melissa said.
The vascular surgeon, Keith Menes, MD, worked closely with the neurologist, Dr. William Bridges, to determine her course of care, Melissa said.
“It was a really unstable blockage so it was a very dangerous surgery, but my surgeon was confident that he could do the surgery and get me through it,” she said. “He was successful and I went home the next day.”
Melissa said that without the quick action by the clinical teams at Saint Joseph East and Saint Joseph Hospital – including Ashley Ammerman, RN, stroke nurse navigator at Saint Joseph East, Christina Brady, RN, stroke program manager, and Victoria Cammack, RN, stroke nurse navigator Saint Joseph Hospital – “it could have easily been a lot worse.”
Now, she’s doing great, “other than the tears.”
Melissa had intensive speech therapy after the surgery. She still has some aphasia, but knows that without the immediate action and the quick administration of tPA, she could have lost the use of her right hand and wouldn’t have been able to recover her speech ability.
She recommends everyone get their annual physicals, stay on top of their stress and physical state every year “so that you are aware and if anything feels slightly different than you’re used to, make the effort to get checked out.”
She said women typically push through things and don’t always get checked out like they should. “It could be detrimental to do that,” she said.
In fact, about a week before her stroke, Melissa woke up with a completely numb left arm, but she thought she had slept on it funny. She thinks it might have been a warning sign.
“I’m just very, very blessed that my husband was in town and I was able to get to the hospital in time and that I was aware at that point that I needed to get immediate care.”
To spot a stroke, remember BE FAST and look for these symptoms:
Balance – loss of balance, headache or dizziness
Eyes – blurred vision
Face – one side of face is drooping
Arms – arm or leg weakness
Speech – speech difficulty
Time – time to call for an ambulance or seek care immediately