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From life support to walking again: Phil's stroke recovery

Posted on May. 29, 2015 ( comments)
Phillip and Jackie Pope

Phil and Jackie Pope in the occupational therapy apartment at Good Samaritan Hospital.

Jackie Pope heard a thump come from the bedroom.

She didn't think much of it and jokingly asked her husband Phil if he had fallen out of bed.

When Phil didn't respond, Jackie walked to the bedroom to see what caused the noise.

She found Phil lying on the floor of the bedroom, unable to move his left arm and leg.

Jackie immediately thought Phil had suffered a stroke. But that couldn’t be right, could it? Phil exercised daily, didn't take medication and ate well.

In shock, Jackie called 9-1-1.

A terrifying diagnosis

Delivered by ambulance to the Emergency Department at MultiCare Auburn Medical Center, Phil's situation was growing more severe by the moment; he was unconscious and completely paralyzed on his left side. Doctors confirmed that Phil had had a stroke and worked quickly to find the blood clot in his brain.

Finally, Gregory Lopez, MD, emergency medicine physician, was able to deliver the diagnosis to Jackie. 

Phil had a large clot in the right side of his brain and in his right carotid artery — a major artery that delivers blood from the heart into the brain. 

In stroke treatment a common saying is "time is brain." Once a stroke has been confirmed there's only a 3-hour time frame to deliver "clot busting" medication that can dissolve blood clots in the brain. Doctors at Auburn gave Phil the medication, but it didn't work. The embolisms needed to be surgically removed — and fast.

Dr. Lopez explained to Jackie that there were only 350 endovascular interventional neuroradiologists in the United States capable of performing the surgical procedure on Phil. One of them was at MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital. 

"Let's go," Jackie said.

From Auburn to Tacoma

Phil and Jackie traveled by ambulance at rush hour from Auburn to Tacoma General. When the ambulance arrived, a rapid response team was waiting for Phil.  

On that team was Brian Kott, MD, the Medical Director of the Stroke Program and Neurointerventional Radiology at MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital. 

Dr. Kott removed both embolisms and met with Jackie to explain Phil's prognosis.

"Dr. Kott was so wonderful," Jackie says. "He explained what Phil needed in a way that I understood. He didn't sugar coat it. It was like he genuinely cared for Phil and me."

On life support, Phil spent five days in the intensive care unit at Tacoma General, before being moved to the medical surgical unit. That's where Jackie learned Phil's stroke had been worse than she expected.

Phil needed more care to help him recover. Jackie knew the best place for Phil.

"I told them there's only one place I want to go," she says, "and that's Good Sam."

Seven weeks at Good Samaritan

Phil transferred to the inpatient rehabilitation program at MultiCare Good Samaritan Hospital, where doctors, nurses and specialized trained staff — including physical and occupational therapists — helped him work toward regaining mobility in his left side.

Jackie soon learned the care teams weren't just there for Phil.

"While Phil was getting his care, they were taking care of me," Jackie says.

Some care came from unexpected places, such as a surprise anniversary dinner from the couple's favorite Chinese restaurant—in North Pole, Alaska. Friends, family and Alaska Airlines employees helped coordinate the delivery. Good Samaritan employees decorated the occupational therapy apartment at the rehabilitation unit so Jackie and Phil could enjoy their 25th anniversary by candlelight.

One of the employees who helped coordinate the special dinner was Lynn Siedenstrang, administrator for Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation at MultiCare. 

"My job is to make sure patients feel supported and address concerns that could impact their ability to participate in therapies," says Siedenstrang. "When I heard about the Chinese food coming I asked, 'What can we do to make it special?'"

With care teams turned into friends and milestones turned into memories, Jackie and Phil cried the day they left Good Samaritan Hospital. 

Phil's doctor asked if there was anything else he could do before Phil discharged from the hospital.

"I told them, 'I want to walk out of here,'" he says, his voice cracking with emotion. 

Phil did, in fact, walk out of the hospital and to his car with his therapists Michelle and Rebecca at his side. These were the first of many steps toward recovery for Phil.

Walking toward recovery

Phil is home now. He goes to Good Samaritan for therapies three times each week. His physical therapist, Andrew Kratz, credits Phil's progress to his determination.

"When he first came in, he did everything with his right side," Kratz says, referring to the exercises Phil does to help him regain strength on his left side. "We're getting to a point where hopefully we'll be ditching the chair entirely."

Phil credits his progress to the encouragement from the care teams he's worked with since the stroke happened. 

"I can do the work but I need someone to lead the way," Phil says. "These guys have been stellar."

Jackie and Phil make it a point to leave the house once each day. They go to Walmart to practice walking and have started going to restaurants. It's a start at regaining normalcy, and both are hopeful for the future.

"We know we've got a long haul," Jackie says. "But we're happy he's alive and getting the best care anyone can get."

Read about how Alaska Airlines coordinated Phil and Jackie's anniversary dinner delivery

Learn more about MultiCare's award-winning stroke program

About The Author

Jen Rittenhouse Jen Rittenhouse
Jen Rittenhouse is the social media manager for MultiCare and Mary Bridge Children's Hospital. She writes stories that connect people with hospitals, health care and each other. You can reach her at [email protected].
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