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‘FAST’ thinking gets woman back on pickleball court weeks after a stroke

Karen Fox loves pickleball, often playing all day long since taking up the sport a little over two years ago.
So after three hours of play, she was thrilled have gone to her second interview at Chicken N Pickle and been offered a part-time job. But it wasn’t accepting the position that will forever make Jan. 5, 2019, memorable for Karen and her husband, Ted.
Rather, it was the life-threatening stroke she suffered at 7:30 that night while watching an NFL playoff game and eating chicken wings with Ted.
“He went to the bathroom and when he came back, he looked at me and said, ‘What is wrong with you?’” says the 55-year-old wife and mother. “I couldn’t talk and one side of my face was in a full droop.”
Ted, recognizing that Karen was exhibiting signs of a stroke, called 9-1-1. Bel Aire EMS quickly arrived and within 11 minutes she was at Ascension Via Christi St. Francis, one of only two Advanced Comprehensive Stroke Centers in Kansas.
EMS called ahead, allowing the stroke team to be ready and waiting for her when she arrived.
The team immediately took Karen to Imaging for a CT scan, which confirmed that a large vessel occlusion was the cause of her stroke. The team administered tPA, a medication used to bust up clots, but she needed more. Interventional radiologist Kumar Reddy, MD, then went in through the femoral artery with a special device to retrieve the rest of the clot.
Three days later, Karen was discharged from the hospital and, to the amazement of everyone, was walking and talking.

A remarkable recovery

The large vessels provide much of the oxygen going to the brain, so when they become blocked it can result in significant damage.
“Most patients with these types of strokes don’t walk out of the hospital on their own so Karen’s recovery truly is remarkable,” says Kristina Willour, RN, Ascension Via Christi’s stroke program coordinator.
Willour says knowing the signs of stroke, quick action and transport by EMS to a stroke center with advanced capabilities played a major role in her rapid recovery – as did having been in great shape to begin with.
However, patients who have had a stroke without other symptoms are considered to be at high risk for a second occurrence. 

So before Karen left the hospital, cardiologist Ali Elkharbotly, MD, with Ascension Medical Group Via Christi, implanted a small loop recorder just below the skin so that Karen’s heart activity could be monitored around the clock.

With that added layer of protection, Karen was ready to reclaim her life.

‘You do know you’re a miracle, right?’

On her third day home, a friend took Karen to Chicken N Pickle just to watch. The following week she was back at play.

Just 21 days after her stroke, she won a gold medal in a mixed doubles pickle ball tournament, and 32 days afterward began her new job.
“They were so supportive and patient with me during my training,” says Karen, noting she had difficulty composing emails and sending texts for the first two to three weeks. She found speech therapy beneficial, both with organizing her thoughts as well as with forming her words. 
She still feels some residual effects from her stroke, including some left-side facial numbness and hot and cold sensations on the left side of her body.
But given what doctors told her in the hospital and afterwards, she’s grateful her losses weren’t far greater.
“You do know you’re a miracle, right?” she says AMG Via Christi neurologist Pedro Vivar Cruz, MD, told her during a follow-up visit.
Yes, she does, she says as she prepares to head to Albuquerque, New Mexico, in June for the Pickleball Senior Nationals.
Do you know the signs of a stroke? Think BE FAST: Balance, Eyes, Face, Arms, Speech and Time. 
Originally posted on May 16, 2019. Updated on Jan. 10, 2020. 


About Roz Hutchinson

Roz Hutchinson is a Wichita wife, mother and chief spoiler of six grandkids and three Chihuahuas, a die-hard women's basketball fan, and director of Communications and Public Relations for Ascension Via Christi.