A friend quickly identifying the signs of an oncoming stroke saved the life of Ellis County resident Terry Wilkerson.

Wilkerson’s friend Jim Baradziej recognized the symptoms just as the two were about to do some shopping at Walmart in Waxahachie on Sept. 16.

The Mayo Clinic states that a stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of a person’s brain is interrupted or is severely reduced, depriving brain tissue of Oxygen and nutrients. Within minutes, brain cells began to die. Prompt treatment is crucial. Early action can minimize brain damage and potential complications.

Day of the Stroke

Baradziej stated that the day out seemed fairly normal at first. They went to Dairy Queen for lunch and talked, and afterward, they got in Baradziei’s to make a quick stop at Walmart.

“We were headed back to his house and said I had to stop at Walmart for a minute,” Baradziej said. “He had bypass surgery last July and sometimes he gets a little winded. So I asked him if he felt like going in and walking around with me or if he just wanted to wait in the truck.”

Baradziej recalled Wilkerson’s response as gibberish. He then noticed that the right side of his face started to droop as he spoke.

Wilkerson then lost the ability to use his right arm.

At that moment the two were still inside the cab of the truck. Instead of waiting, Baradziej thought it would be more prudent to drive straight to the hospital as opposed to calling for an ambulance.

“I have heard that droopiness and problems with speech are generally associated with strokes. So I looked at him and said ‘Terry, you and I are going to the doctor’ and drove straight over here to Baylor Waxahachie,” Baradziej remembered. “I parked in front of the emergency room. I told the nurses at the front desk that I think my buddy is having a stroke and could I get a wheelchair. One nurse was standing right behind the counter, and she came out, and she grabbed the wheelchair.”

Baradziej recalled that one of the nurses took him over to the side as the others attended to Wilkerson in the truck. She asked him about the symptoms Wilkerson was displaying. Baradziej told her what he had witnessed and the nurse concluded a stroke had taken place. He then called Wilkerson’s wife, Rhonda, and son to tell them what happened and also talked with a surgeon.

After he was stabilized, Wilkerson was taken by helicopter to Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. Once in Dallas, Wilkerson was taken into surgery where a blood clot was removed from his brain.

“It was a very fortunate circumstance, timing, and events. It just so happened that the day I took him to the hospital the doctor in the ER knows a little bit about strokes,” Baradziej stated. “He had been scheduled to have a surgery on his carotid artery to have a stint put in on Sept. 5 with Methodist. When they showed up, they canceled the surgery because apparently, they had an air conditioner break down in their surgical room. So they could not do the surgery. They rescheduled it for Sept. 18, and he had the stroke on Sept. 16.”

Baradziej shared that staff and the hospital are surprised at how well he is doing. He added that doctors from around the country are making inquiries about his case.

Wilkerson’s Memory

Wilkerson said he does not remember much from that day and what he does remember is fragmented.

“We went and ate at Dairy Queen, and then we went to Walmart. He (Terry) said I started dazing out on him. Then he took me up to the hospital. I remember telling him that I didn’t need to go. My voice was not good, but he went ahead and took me,” Wilkerson recalled. “When we pulled up to the emergency room I could not really focus. I could hear people telling me things and calling my name but could not really respond. I remember them getting me out of the truck. Then he (Terry) said they put me in a wheelchair but I don’t remember that. I remember going with the nurses and going down a hall. I don’t remember anything after that.”

Current State of Health

Wilkerson’s hospital stay lasted six days. Before the stroke on Sept. 16, he had a stroke three months earlier and had also undergone bypass surgery. Rhonda, his wife, thought the latest stroke would be similar to what he had faced in the past.

“I stayed calm and called his two sons. I headed to the hospital. He had a stroke three months previous and I thought it was like the one that he had before. But it wasn’t. The one that he had before was less severe,” Rhonda said. “The surgery lasted two and a half-hours. Usually, it doesn't last near that long, but he (the surgeon) had to go back up three times to get all of the blood clot. Then he rated the stroke from one to 20. He said it was a 20. It was nursing home bound. Then Terry came off the ventilator and was moving his right side. They were totally amazed.”

Rhonda stated that doctors were successful in inserting a stint and also surgically implanted a device that monitors Wilkerson’s overall health. This device transmits information to Wilkerson’s doctor who can inform him if there is a possible medical issue.

Rhonda shared that she considers what happened to be nothing short of a miracle. She noted that everything seemed to come together — first with Baradziej making the decision to take him to the hospital right away to the availability of a medical helicopter to an open surgical suite at Baylor in Dallas.

“He is a miracle, and by all rights, he should not be here. They will tell you that,” Rhonda noted. “They don’t know why he is actually here truthfully.”

What the Experts Say

Dr. Dion Graybeal, who is the Medical Director of Stroke for Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, said there are steps that people can take to reduce their risk of a stroke.

“When people have had a stroke, we will educate them on the risk factors in identifying symptoms. Prevention tends to be the name of the game. It is always better not to have a stroke and prevent having one, then, unfortunately, being under the ticking clock like (with) a hemorrhage in the brain after the process has already started,” Graybeal shared. “There are risk factors that we consider that are modifiable like high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, cigarette smoking and tobacco use, a sedentary lifestyle, and even things like sleep apnea. All of these things can be modified and in treating them do tend to reduce the risk of stroke.”

Graybeal noted that some risk factors that can’t be changed include age, family history of stroke, ethnic background, and genetics.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, every year more than 795,000 people in the country suffer a stroke. Of those, about 610,000 cases are new strokes. The CDC states that someone in the country has a stroke every 40 seconds and someone dies of a stroke every four minutes.

The Mayo Clinic states that some of the symptoms of a stroke include trouble with speaking and understanding, paralysis or numbness of the face, arm or leg, trouble seeing in one or both eyes, headaches, and trouble walking.

Graybeal stated that one of the ways that you can remember these symptoms is by learning the acronym F.A.S.T, which stands for face, arms, speech and time. He notes that time is critical and it is best to seek medical attention quickly by calling 9-1-1. Graybeal added that a stroke can happen to anyone no matter how old they are, as each person is different.

"It is always tragic when someone comes to the hospital having a stroke and they were unaware of some of their risk factors they might have. It is very important for people to see their doctors regularly," Graybeal explained. "My car gets regular maintenance. When it needs gas I give it the right grade of gas and all these different sorts of things to make sure that the car will run dependently and as long as I need it to. Our bodies are not any different.”

Graybeal stated that by seeing our primary care doctors regularly would go a long way in preventing problems and correcting issues early on. He added that by adopting healthy lifestyles and habits can contribute to a long life.