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Just in the Nick of Time

Thanks to swift medical intervention, Malvern woman survives major stroke with no deficits.

Dawn Haldeman Stroke Timeline

Dawn Haldeman Stroke Timeline

In September 2012, Dawn Haldeman, 51, was having a conversation with her boss when she began slurring her speech and slumped over in her chair.  Recognizing the warning signs of stroke, without delay, Dawn’s boss dialed 911.  That quick reaction to Dawn’s medical emergency, set in motion the chain of events that saved the Malvern woman’s life.

Within 10 minutes of the 911 call, emergency medical service technicians were on the scene and rushed Dawn to Phoenixville Hospital (PH).  The hospital’s Emergency Medicine team was standing by.  Upon evaluating Dawn, they immediately accessed the telemedicine service operated in partnership with Abington Memorial Hospital (AMH).  This service brings off-site stroke expertise to the patients and physicians at PH, at the exact moment they need it.  In addition to secure videoconferencing, telemedicine technology gives off-site AMH specialists access to a patient’s lab results and imaging studies at PH.

Using videoconferencing, AMH neurologists Qaisar Shah, MD, and James Burke, MD, assessed Dawn’s symptoms and condition, which included weakness of the entire right side of her body.  Dr. Burke ordered intravenous rT-PA—the clot-busting drug used to treat stroke symptoms.  Shortly thereafter, Dawn began to show improvement.  “Dawn was sitting up and speaking when they transported her to Abington,” recalls Dr. Shah, “and returned to normal when we admitted her to the neurocritical care unit (NCU).”

Within a few hours, however, Dawn’s symptoms returned.  She went weak and lapsed into a coma.   The neurocritical care team rushed Dawn to the neuroendovascular lab, where Dr. Shah and fellow neurointerventionalist Osman Kozak, MD, performed an angiography.  This technique uses X-rays and computer analysis to give a precise picture of the blood vessels and blood flow in the neck and head.  To conduct the study, the doctors made a tiny incision in Dawn’s groin and inserted a catheter (a thin tube) into the femoral artery.  Using X-ray guidance, they maneuvered the catheter to the base of Dawn’s skull, where they discovered a complete blockage of the basilar artery at the back of the head.  This artery is one of the main arteries responsible for carrying oxygen-rich blood to the brain.  If the brain is deprived of oxygen for more than a few seconds, brain cells can die, causing permanent damage.

To restore blood flow to Dawn’s brain, Drs. Shah and Kozak administered rT-PA into the artery and threaded a tiny balloon through the catheter into the blocked blood vessel.  They completely opened the blood vessel by inflating the balloon, thereby forcing the plaque that was causing the blockage against the artery walls.

As Dawn lay resting under close watch in the NCU that night, brother Don rushed to the hospital to be at her side.  He was told Dawn had a 50 percent chance of living.  To everyone’s amazement and delight, the next morning, Dawn was awake, smiling and talking.

Dawn literally walked away without any deficits following a major stroke.  She rose to celebrity status in the NCU.  Within 24 hours, her symptoms completely reversed and she was discharged home, without the need for any rehabilitation.  “I understand I am a walking miracle,” she says.

A highly spiritual person, Dawn says, “I believe the hand of God played a role here.  It seems to me that the timing of events that occurred that day could not have been a coincidence.” Since the stroke, Dawn said she often contemplates her purpose in life.

While soul searching, Dawn still works in the office at a local car dealership.  She spends time in the company of eight-year-old best buddy Sam, her dog.  She is also cooking more healthfully, sharing large pots of soup with her neighbors.  Among Dawn’s greatest joys is her volunteer work with the youth group at a nearby church.  “Spending time with these kids gives me a reason to get up every day,” says Dawn.  Based on her reflection, it seems Dawn already has the answer to her existential question.

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