Stroke patient recovers, enjoying life

By TIM SINIARD
Posted 1/20/19

Elizabeth Pierce was in the bathroom drying her hair, getting ready go out with her husband for a movie matinee and pizza date when she collapsed.Hearing her call for help, Jack Pierce, rushed to the …

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Stroke patient recovers, enjoying life

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Elizabeth Pierce was in the bathroom drying her hair, getting ready go out with her husband for a movie matinee and pizza date when she collapsed.

Hearing her call for help, Jack Pierce, rushed to the bathroom. She could not say his name and he also noticed her speech was slurred. In addition, Elizabeth’s face had slightly drooped on one side.

It was August 2018.

“My goodness,” Jack said. “What’s going on?”

“I’m OK," she managed to say. “Just help me get up.”

She could only raise her right arm.

Jack called 911.

Elizabeth, along with several other stroke survivors, was honored last week during a dinner held for them at Cafe Roma in Cleveland. The EMTs and Life Force members who had treated her, as well as the other stroke victims, were also in attendance.

During the dinner, Erlanger officials described the cases of each patient, noting their quick recoveries. 

As Elizabeth sat at a table surrounded by Erlanger staffers, she beamed as she told them about a grandchild who was going to be born soon.

“My son, Kristopher, and his wife are expecting a baby!” she said, her eyes sparkling with excitement. 

The Pierces also have a daughter, Kimberly Wood, who was at dinner to help them celebrate.

She described their life in California, where her husband was an aerospace engineer, working on all the major space exploration projects.

The couple moved to East Tennessee 13 years ago.

After the dinner, Jack, regaled the guests with a performance of “Amazing Grace” on his bagpipes.

The evening seemed light years away from the day Elizabeth fell ill. That day, her husband worried that EMTs would not arrive at their house in time to take her to the hospital. 

The Pierces live in northwest Bradley County, which Jack said is the most “remote corner of the county.”

In the past, whenever Jack gave someone their address, he had to repeat it several times.

“I would also have to spell it out,” Jack said. “But not with this 911 agent.”

Emergency medical technicians were in route within seconds. 

Jack sighed with relief when the ambulance and fire truck arrived.

The EM’s determined Elizabeth had suffered a stroke and made the decision to airlift her to Erlanger Hospital via Life Force.

The helicopter was already waiting at a nearby church parking lot.

After the EMTs left to transport his wife to the church, Jack stayed behind to lock up the house after reassuring her he would follow them to the hospital.

He stopped for a moment to kneel and pray.

“God was way out ahead of me on this,” Jack said.

He then hit the road to Chattanooga. By the time had had arrived, Elizabeth was already out of surgery, where doctors had performed a thrombectomy —  a procedure that removes blood clots. She was also administered the crucial clot-busting tissue plasminogen activator drug, also known as tPA.

The droop on her face now was less severe, and she was speaking more clearly.

Amazingly, Elizabeth was back home resting within 48 hours.

Reflecting on that day, Jack said her recovery has been miraculous.

“She has done so fantastically well,” he said. “You can’t tell she's had a stroke.”

He said a message on a  billboard he had seen some time before his wife's stroke helped him react.

"I was driving on the interstate and a billboard caught my eye," Jack said. "I saw four big letters – F.A.S.T. – and in smaller letters, Erlanger."

Jack said he later Googled the meaning of the acronym.

"It was an acronym for face, arm, speech and time," Jack said. "How to recognize a stroke."

He made a mental note. One that helped him to act fast when Elizabeth fell ill.

Elizabeth has a few memories of that day.

“I do remember signing a form,” she said.

As for warning signs, Elizabeth said she never noticed symptoms that signaled she was in danger of suffering a stroke. She feel as if she has suffered one.

“I feel great,” said the former kindergarten teacher. “I don’t feel like I’ve had a stroke.”

Although she still goes to physical therapy to help her with some minor balancing issues, she is 100 percent recovered.

According to Erlanger’s website, its Southeast Regional Stroke Center “is one of the largest stroke centers in the nation” and “has been awarded the Comprehensive 
Stroke Center Certification by The Joint Commission, the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association.”

Jack said he was amazed at the response from the medical professionals.

“Each team member from the 911 call center to surgery and recovery was in concert,” Jack said. “Not one second was lost. She was admitted Aug. 22 and released mid-day on Aug. 24."

Jack credits the  for helping him understand ttime is of the essence when dealing with strokes.

"The best prevention of a tragedy is knowledge," Jack said.

Jack thanked the 911 agent, paramedics, the helicopter crew, Erlanger nurses, doctors, staff members and other hospital personnel. 

“The best Christmas present I had this year was to be able to share it with her," he said.

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