Recently, my wife Julie and I drove north from our home in Champaign, Illinois with the intention of spending two days enjoying the company of friends in Wisconsin followed by three days of leisurely biking on the Root River State Trail in Minnesota.
The first day went as planned. We biked with Madison friends Ann and Jim on Madison bike trails that passed along Lake Monona, around the Wisconsin State capitol and down State Street to the University of Wisconsin campus, where we enjoyed lunch and conversation on the Memorial Union Terrace adjacent to Lake Mendota.
The second day it was off to Wisconsin Dells to attend an annual luncheon with fraternity brothers that attended UW-Whitewater during the late 1950s and early ‘60s. This day did not go as planned. In the course of saying goodbye to fraternity brothers, it suddenly became impossible for me to speak coherently. Julie and I realized I likely was having a stroke and that it was vital to get immediate medical attention.
Julie drove me 16 miles to Portage, where I was admitted into Divine Savior Healthcare Hospital, which is, coincidentally, the hospital in which I was born in 1936. The emergency services staff drew blood for analysis and did a CAT scan. Then, aided by a telemedicine consultation with a neurological specialist in Massachusetts, the location of the blood clot within my brain was determined, the “clot busting” drug tPA was administered, and my admission into the UW Hospital in Madison was arranged.
Late in the course of emergency room procedures in Portage, I was asked about the surgical scar on my abdomen. With Julie’s assistance, we relayed that I had undergone surgery for pyloric stenosis, a life-threatening condition, when I was four weeks of age at Divine Savior Hospital, and the operation was done by Dr. Tierney, a highly respected local doctor. Hearing this, the emergency services staff member who would monitor my condition in the ambulance during the 40-mile trip to Madison told us Dr. Tierney was his grandfather!
On arrival at UW Hospital, a second CAT scan was done to determine the status of the blood clot and its location. Soon thereafter, a two-woman surgical team performed a mechanical thrombectomy, threading a catheter from my groin to my brain to remove the blood clot. The results were stunning. My capacity to speak intelligibly was restored almost immediately, and a subsequent CAT scan showed no damage to my brain.
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Having removed the blood clot, the UW Neuroscience Intensive Care Unit had two primary goals: monitoring my recovery and determining the probable cause of the stroke. Over the next 36 hours, many members of the UW stroke clinic team — doctors (neurologists, cardiologists, radiologists, residents); nurses; technicians that did the echocardiogram, electrocardiogram and CAT scans; therapists (physical, occupational, speech); a pharmacist and others attended to my healthcare needs. The care was uniformly competent, kind and respectful; and it was effective. A heart condition that is a risk factor for stroke (Afib) was diagnosed and medication to reduce that risk was initiated. I was released to return to our home in Champaign within two days of experiencing the stroke.
This brings us to the two reasons I chose to contribute this piece. First, this experience reinforced my appreciation of the vital importance of teamwork. There are limits to the extent to which we control our destiny. We rely on people with varying roles and, increasingly, on advanced technologies. I am grateful that when the stroke occurred, I had timely access to both.
Second, we live in a country populated by indigenous people of the Americas and immigrants from many countries around the globe.
The well-trained healthcare providers that worked together, playing their differing roles throughout this personal story, included women and men of diverse races, ethnicities and national origins. This experience reinforced my understanding of the value of encouraging and empowering people of diverse cultural backgrounds to achieve their potential. We are vastly enriched as a country when we embrace and celebrate our cultural diversity.
The outstanding outcome I experienced due to the professionalism of a diverse team of healthcare providers is consistent with the outcomes frequently obtained when diverse teams are involved in all sectors of our society: agriculture, education, commerce, military, social services, etc. It is my hope that our country continues to educate and empower all of its diverse citizens so that we may “field” the strongest and most capable teams to meet our present and future challenges.