On March 23, 2012, Mark Wright, M.D., celebrated his 53rd birthday. Life was good. He’d been working as a neonatologist for 27 years, caring for preemies and newborns with complex medical conditions. It was stressful work, which may have contributed to his slightly elevated blood pressure. But he didn’t smoke or drink, he maintained a healthy weight, and he felt fine.
The day after his birthday, Wright went to work at Memorial University Medical Center (MUMC) at 5:30 p.m. As he walked to the neonatal intensive care nursery, he passed familiar posters that listed the warning signs of a stroke. The posters urged people to call 911 immediately if they experienced any of the symptoms. Wright had seen the posters often, but he never imagined they would save his life.
He worked for 15 hours straight, until 8:30 a.m. on March 25. Then he went home for some much-needed rest.
“I went to sleep at 9:30 in the morning and woke up at 1:30 p.m. I reached out to grab something with my right hand, and I couldn’t hold onto anything. I felt confused and wasn’t sure what was happening. I remembered that these were symptoms I’d seen on the posters at work. That’s when I realized I might be having a stroke and I called 911,” said Wright.
He remained coherent enough to walk outside, meet the ambulance, and speak with emergency personnel. But as he was being transported to MUMC, his symptoms worsened. Stroke specialists were waiting for him at the hospital. They discussed giving Wright a clot-busting drug called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) to restore blood flow to his brain. However, to be effective, tPA must be administered within three hours of the start of the stroke. Since Wright had awakened from a four-hour nap experiencing symptoms, doctors were not sure when the stroke actually began. Because of the uncertain timeframe, he was not a candidate for tPA.
Instead, Wright was admitted to the neuro intensive care unit. That evening, he experienced another stroke that paralyzed the right side of his body. He was unable to speak, move his right arm, or walk. Despite the tragic turn of events, Wright remained optimistic. He was grateful to be alive and he knew that hard work would help him heal.
He spent the next four weeks in the hospital doing rigorous physical, occupational, and speech/language rehabilitation. After he was discharged from MUMC, he continued outpatient rehabilitation.
“The therapists in rehab are very dedicated, very good, and very intensive. They always come up with new things for me to do, or as I like to joke, new ways to torture me,” laughed Wright.
Less than two months after his stroke, Wright was walking with a cane. His speech was understandable. And he was gradually gaining shoulder movement in his right arm. Wright firmly believes his quick action on March 25 saved his life.
“If I hadn’t recognized the symptoms from the poster I saw at work, I might not have called 911 right away. And If I’d waited much longer, I would have been unable to call for help,” said Wright.
As he continues to heal, Wright offers this message for others:
“Don’t ignore high blood pressure. Know the symptoms of a stroke. And if you experience those symptoms, call 911 right away. The sooner you get help, the sooner you can get on the road back to health.”
The tell-tale symptoms of a stroke are:
If you or somebody you know experiences any of these symptoms, call 911.