Saved from a Stroke
Jim and Ali Durfee (center) surrounded by their family at their daughter’s wedding.
How quick action at St. Luke’s protected one man’s life
On a hot summer day, Ali Durfee brought her husband Jim to St. Luke’s for outpatient surgery. Jim had broken his ankle several days before. They figured they would be home with their kids by early afternoon. They soon found out that everything can change in a heartbeat.
The surgery went well. Ali was waiting for Jim in his room when Anesthesiologist Dr. Andrea Benson told her that Jim was not waking up in quite the way they would expect. They believed he had a blood clot in his brain and had taken him for a CT scan.
The scan confirmed a blood clot had lodged itself in his brain. “Then I got worried,” said Ali. “It hit me – oh my goodness – he’s having a stroke.”
Ali and Jim have been married 25 years. They share 11 children, with Jim’s oldest son from a previous marriage. Two of their sons work with Jim at his excavation company, Dirt Works Specialists. Ali runs the home, homeschooling the eight children who still live with them.
Everything hinged on the next few moments.
A stroke’s ripple effects
Signs of a stroke may be obvious: Sudden numbness in one side of the body, confusion or difficulty speaking, or trouble walking. People experiencing or witnessing these symptoms should immediately dial 911.
But for someone coming out of anesthetic from a normal, stable surgery, the signs could be very easy to miss. Jim recalls, “When I woke up, they were asking me questions and I couldn’t answer them. The words weren’t coming out.”
St. Luke’s is nationally recognized for excellent stroke care by both U.S. News & World Report, and the American Heart Association.
Amber LaValley, the nurse assigned to closely observe Jim’s recovery, recognized that he was not following the expected evolution of recovery. One side of his face was different from the other, drooping and weak. “That caused her to make the phone call that truly saved this man,” said Dr. Benson. “It could have so easily been missed.”
LaValley alerted Dr. Benson. The symptoms were confirmed. St. Luke’s stroke alert protocol was set in motion.
Award-winning stroke care at St. Luke’s
St. Luke’s is nationally recognized for excellent stroke care by both U.S. News & World Report, and the American Heart Association. When the alert sounded for Jim, St. Luke’s team knew just what to do.
Since Jim had just had surgery, he was not eligible for medication that would break up the blood clot. Fortunately, St. Luke’s was the first hospital in the region to offer thrombectomies. This is the most advanced stroke treatment for large-vessel ischemic stroke patients. Dr. Naveen Gowda performed the procedure, removing the clot in less than 15 minutes.
Dr. Benson recalls the celebration among the team when the clot was successfully removed. “Everybody was moved,” she said. “It’s something I’ll remember the rest of my life.”
Today, Jim is back to long hours in the excavator and spending time with his growing family (which includes four grandchildren and a couple more on the way). “I sure am glad I can still talk and think and use my body,” he said. “I like to stay busy.”
Dr. Benson recognizes that the open communication among St. Luke’s team was vital to Jim’s successful outcome. “When there’s a problem, we can work together as quickly as possible to find solution,” she said. “This is one of St. Luke’s greatest strengths.”
To learn more about stroke care at St. Luke’s, visit slhduluth.com/stroke.
This article was originally featured on pages 38 & 39 in the Nov-Dec 2022 issue of The Woman Today magazine.