Jillene’s Story: After Stroke, Energy Abounds

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Jillene Whatley is now a ball of energy. But she had a nagging feeling for months that something wasn’t right. She just couldn’t put her finger on it.

Her eyesight had deteriorated and she felt numbness in her right arm and the right side of her face. She thought the changes were from age and other factors. It wasn’t until an episode during which she temporarily lost total sight in her right eye, that she began aggressively searching for a cause.

“Something told me to look up the symptoms of a stroke,” said Jillene. “I searched and found the 10 signs of a stroke, and I had six of them.”

Jillene, who lives in Kettering, immediately went to the emergency room at Miami Valley Hospital South with her daughter. “I think I’m having a stroke or I’ve had a stroke,” she told the receptionist. Suddenly, she recalls, emergency room staff surrounded her. 

Jillene learned she had experienced five minor strokes, or ministrokes.

Bryan Ludwig, MD, with the Clinical Neuroscience Institute. , called Jillene’s ministrokes a TIA – transient ischemic attack. “That means that the blood to the brain didn't get there and then returned, meaning (the blood flow) temporarily was halted and then it returned quickly enough that there was no permanent injury.” 

“(TIAs) should be taken very seriously because it's a warning sign for a larger, more permanent stroke that may happen, indeed sometimes very close to those clinical symptoms the patient had,” Dr. Ludwig says. “In Jillene’s case, we were fortunate because her symptoms of right eye vision and some of the numbness she was experiencing helped us determine that the particular artery that was narrowed was the culprit.”

Further testing showed Jillene had blockage in both carotid arteries, the left side being worse.

Jillene’s proactive response to her symptoms worked in her favor, Dr. Ludwig says. “Stroke symptoms can vary and because of that, it's important to recognize the clinical signs and to have your family members recognize clinical signs.”

One way to remember what to look for is to think and BE FAST.

B — Balance: Does the person have a sudden loss of balance?
E — Eyes: Has the person lost vision in one or both eyes?
F — Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
A — Arm: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S — Speech: Ask the person to say something. Is the speech slurred or garbled?
T — Time: If you notice any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately. Time is critical!

Premier Health’s stroke services are provided at all Premier Health hospitals. Jillene was first seen at Miami Valley Hospital South. After evaluation by a TeleStroke Network specialist, she was referred for further testing.

“The stroke team evaluated her and identified that her vision loss in the right eye was a warning sign for a potential problem with the artery in the neck,” Dr. Ludwig says. “Thankfully, she was okay at this stage and not having any further outward symptoms, which allowed us to transfer her to the main hospital.”

Within Premier Health, Miami Valley Hospital is a Comprehensive Stroke Center. This recognition is awarded by the Joint Commission, which uses specific guidelines and standards to evaluate stroke services and ensure quality.

Centers that participate in the same process include the Cleveland Clinic, the Mayo Clinic, Massachusetts General and Stanford University Medical Center. These hospitals grade themselves against one another to ensure the highest standards.

“We find that our standards are just as high as theirs, which we're very proud of. We like to make sure that folks in Dayton know that,” Dr. Ludwig says.

When Jillene arrived at Miami Valley Hospital, doctors examined her arteries and performed two surgeries. Physicians placed stents in both arteries using a minimally invasive procedure with a surgical robot. Thanks to the surgeries, Jillene’s vision improved and her energy level increased.

“I went to recovery and then home the next day,” Jillene said. “They just can’t get over how well the procedure went, and I can’t either.”

Jillene says she feels better than she has in years. She continues to travel, something that she had once feared doing after her eyesight diminished. She also continues to work. She says she has more energy, and family members talk about how she looks healthier than ever before.

“God hasn’t given me a reason to go,” Jillene said. “Until I find that reason, it’s important for me to stop worrying about dying and start living again. I’ve got a lot to live for and I’ve got some beautiful grandbabies to see.”

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Bryan R. Ludwig, MD

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