In April 2022, Drenda Vijuk had her sights set on a European cruise with her fiancé. The 58-year-old Amelia Island resident was packing her suitcase when she took a break to chat with her husband-to-be, Clark Fivek.
"I went out to the living room and thought I sat down beside him," Vijuk remembered. "I actually sat across from him, and he asked me a couple of questions. I thought I was answering, but he said I was kind of 'blank' and my eyes were looking to the left."
Vijuk continued, "He said, 'I think you're having a stroke.'"
Watching the warning signs
Vijuk, a former long-distance runner, exercised three times a week. Aside from previously undiagnosed atrial fibrillation (Afib), she had no risk factors for stroke. With her health being a top priority, she never imagined she'd have one. But her fiancé, who previously produced health education videos, recognized the warning signs of stroke immediately and called 911.
Paramedics arrived at their home within 10 minutes and took Vijuk to a waiting helicopter, which flew her to Baptist Medical Center Jacksonville, one of just a few hospitals in Florida certified as a Comprehensive Stroke Center.
There, a team of experts was waiting to provide immediate care.
Combatting the clot
Vijuk's medical team sprang into action, beginning with neurocritical care neurologist Mohamed Chmayssani, MD, in the emergency department.
Within an hour of her arrival, Vijuk had received the blood-clot-busting medication tPA and undergone a thrombectomy. During this minimally invasive procedure, Eric Sauvageau, MD, neurovascular surgeon and co-director of Baptist Health's Stroke & Cerebrovascular Center, used a catheter to dissolve the clot in Vijuk's brain.
"When it comes to stroke, time is brain. Every second that goes by without treatment can extend the damage," said Dr. Sauvageau. "Because her fiancé immediately recognized the symptoms and called for help, and first responders arranged for immediate transport to Baptist Jacksonville, she was able to get treatment quickly and avoid long-term impacts."
Vijuk awoke the next morning in the hospital with most of her mobility and speech back to normal.
"I could talk and move my arms, fingers, legs and toes," she remembered. "I recently found out only 26 minutes passed from the moment I got to Baptist Jacksonville until they removed clot."
During her recovery, she learned how dire her condition had been.
"Doctors said If I'd been on a plane, or on the cruise, there's a chance I would have either died or spent the rest of my life in a nursing home," she said.
Cruising toward the future
Vijuk went home from the hospital just two days after she arrived. Because of the fast care she received, she recovered well and didn't need speech or physical therapy. She continues to receive follow-up care with Timothy Lucey, DO, a neurologist with Baptist Neurology at Baptist Medical Center Nassau. She also sees Baptist Heart Specialists cardiologist George Le-Bert, DO, for management of her Afib.
In October 2022, Vijuk and Fivek finally set sail their long-awaited cruise.
"I just feel so blessed," Vijuk said. "Thank goodness for Baptist Health and the doctors, nurses, certified nursing assistants, and all the people involved in my care. Everyone was so nice and wonderful, and I really appreciated their compassion!"
Key to stroke recovery
Every minute matters when it comes to stroke. If you or someone you know is experiencing stroke symptoms, call 911 and go to the nearest Emergency Center immediately.