With stroke, an experienced, coordinated team makes all the difference

closeup of smiling woman

Valarie Sturgeon, 47, was at her work computer when a headache she had for the past week became so excruciating she couldn’t shake it. She became so overwrought with pain and disoriented that all she could say repeatedly was, “My head hurts.”

Fortunately, two coworkers realized she was acting strangely so they called 911. EMTs arrived quickly and took her down the elevator in her rolling work chair. “I remember being outside briefly before blacking out,” Valarie said.

She was rushed by ambulance to the emergency room at Baptist South. “Valarie was experiencing weakness on her right side, confusion and a severe headache. I knew hemorrhagic stroke was a strong possibility,” said Marc Farraye, MD, who ordered a CT scan.

“I didn’t know anything about strokes. I was just this professional career-minded woman,” she said. “This was a warning sign for me to slow down.”

The scan confirmed that Valarie was suffering from a critical brain bleed. “It was obvious she needed a neurovascular surgeon immediately,” Dr. Farraye said. As part of the team at Baptist’s new regional Stroke & Cerebrovascular Center, Dr. Farraye knew the protocol for a rapid patient transfer.

In a single time-saving phone call, Dr. Farraye was able to convey details to the neurovascular surgeon, alert the stroke team and arrange for immediate Life Flight transport to Baptist Jacksonville.

“To stabilize her condition, we administered an antiseizure drug, along with medications to control her blood pressure and help prevent further bleeding,” Dr. Farraye explained.

In less than an hour, Valarie had gone from Dr. Farraye’s expert care to the care of internationally renowned neurovascular surgeons Ricardo Hanel, MD, PhD, and Eric Sauvageau, MD, who lead Baptist Health’s Stroke & Cerebrovascular Center.

Valarie’s brain bleed was due to a ruptured brain AVM (arteriovenous malformation), an abnormal tangle of arteries and veins, which in her case led to a hemorrhagic stroke.

Because of the size of the bleed, Drs. Hanel and Sauvageau performed an open surgery and removed the malformation with the aid of a high-powered operative microscope. Special care was given to every detail, including ensuring her hair was not shaved.

“Dr. Hanel said he was going to make it look like nothing had ever happened to me. The bedside manner of this man is just unbelievable,” Valarie said. “He told my husband he was going to treat me just like his wife or daughter. They made me feel like I was at home.

“If it had not been for the quick action of the medical team at Baptist South, I would not have arrived in time to have the surgery I needed. Everyone worked together in lock-step.” Valarie said. “We are so grateful.”