Nursing Patient Stories
You may not realize it, but your brain is always making connections. It’s home to about one billion neurons and each neuron forms 1,000 connections to other neurons, amounting to more than a trillion connections.
When a stroke happens, these connections are disrupted.
On Jan. 12, 2017, Gary Hansen experienced this disruption first-hand when he suffered a subarachnoid hemorrhage, a life-threatening stroke caused by a ruptured aneurysm that bleeds into the space between the brain and skull, causing increased pressure and reduced oxygen flow to the brain.
When Gary woke up that morning, he was blindsided by symptoms. His sudden severe headache and nausea prompted his wife to act quickly and she immediately called 9-1-1.
He was rushed to Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare (TMH), North Florida’s only Comprehensive Stroke Center, where T. Adam Oliver, MD, endovascular neurosurgeon, and the team in the endovascular neurosurgery lab provided emergent stroke care to treat the bleeding in his brain.
Gary spent the next eight days in the Vogter Neuro Intensive Care Unit (ICU), under the constant care of his nurses. Although he survived the hemorrhage, Gary was at high-risk for another life-threatening, or debilitating, stroke.
“Dr. Oliver told me that 20 percent of people with this kind of hemorrhage do not survive, 60 percent survive but are paralyzed in some way, and 20 percent walk away like nothing ever happened,” Gary said. “I was thankfully in the last 20 percent.”
While at TMH, his family brought a sign with his favorite saying, “blessed beyond measure” to have on display and serve as a constant reminder that every day is a gift. With the dedicated support from the team in the Neuro ICU and his family, Gary was discharged walking, talking and enjoying life once again.
“When a stroke happens, time is of the essence. Gary’s wife did the right thing. As soon as she recognized his symptoms, she picked up the phone and made every second count,” said Dr. Oliver. “Gary survived a life-threatening injury and is very fortunate not to have a neurological deficit as a result. Get to the ER quickly and we have everything to save you.”
The connections Gary made with Dr. Oliver, along with his compassionate nurses, physical therapists and speech therapists, stretched far beyond hospital walls.
When Gary, who was a cashier at Publix, was cleared to return to work, he valued every opportunity to recognize any TMH nurse in scrubs who came through his line. He would ask them to say “hello” to Dr. Oliver on his behalf and he would even write “thank you!” on their receipts.
On Jan. 12, 2018, the anniversary of his stroke, Gary and his wife visited the neurology unit to express their gratitude. They brought a cake that said “thanks for saving my life!” and “blessed beyond measure.” During the celebration, many nurses mentioned talking to him at Publix since his stay at TMH a year ago.
Marsha Hartline, MSN, RN, CNML, nurse manager, neurology/neurosurgery, shared how Gary’s visit left a lasting impression. “Healthcare is so fast paced, the fact that he took the time to come back and say ‘thank you’ was so nice. It really goes a long way here.”
During his anniversary visit, Gary was thrilled to reconnect with Dr. Oliver and his nurses. Being that he has come full circle, he expressed his appreciation for the dedicated high-quality care that was provided at Tallahassee Memorial. With his “blessed beyond measure” sign in hand, Gary felt emotional thanking the people who impacted his life in a way that very few people with his condition get to experience.
Before his stroke, “blessed beyond measure” used to be Gary’s motto for his grandchildren, and though it still applies to them, it is now also his motto for having a second chance at life.
It takes a special person to compete in triathlons. The multi-stage competitions are an extreme test of physical and mental fortitude. Even more extraordinary are those with the desire to take it even further and compete in IRONMAN triathlons.
IRONMAN races a mind-boggling amount of endurance. Comprising of over 2 miles of swimming, around 112 miles of cycling and 26 miles of running, the races can take upwards of 14 hours to complete. Contestants push their bodies to the absolute limits, battling blisters, muscle cramps and tremendous fatigue, among other things, to make it to the finish line. While the Ironman race itself is difficult, the countless hours of regimented training in preparation for the event takes a toll as well.
George Cucchi is one of the rare few with the desire to complete in IRONMAN races. This passion to finish an IRONMAN pushed him through an intense training schedule so he could compete in the Florida IRONMAN in December of 2017. However, one morning in July would radically change all of that.
“My Sunday morning started like many other Sunday mornings,” George recalled. “The triathlon season was in full swing, and I was out early for a few hours of training so I could return home to do some housework.”
While George was cruising on a familiar 50-mile bike-ride, enjoying a quiet stretch of Meridian Road through rural Georgia, a distracted driver of a Dodge pick-up unexpectedly struck George at 60 mph. The violent collision sent George into a ditch where he lay motionless in a bed of fire ants.
George was rushed to the Tallahassee Memorial Bixler Trauma & Emergency Center with fractures in his ankle, kneecap, femur, humerus and ribs. He also had two damaged vertebra, a cracked skill and multiple lacerations. While in the trauma center, he was triaged and received an emergency operation to insert a steel rod in his femur. A few days later, Hank Hutchinson, MD, Medical Director of Orthopedic Trauma Surgery, performed an operation to reinforce his mangled left arm with steel plates.
“The short-term goal, with an open fracture [like George’s], was to clean the wound, get skeletal stability, fix the fracture and get the wound closed,” said Dr. Hutchinson. “The long term goal with orthopedic trauma surgeries, and any orthopedic surgery, is try to return the patient as close to their preinjury level of function as possible.”
Before the accident, George spent dozens of hours every week running, swimming or biking. He was an endurance athlete, with the goal to complete in a race that many view as border line impossible. The next several days and weeks following his accident would test George’s physical and mental endurance in ways he had never experienced before.
George began his recovery in the Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare’s (TMH) Vogter Neuro Intensive Care Unit (VNICU), where the nursing staff in that unit would be instrumental in helping George regain his independence.
“When I came out of the trauma center and into the VNICU, it was important that I became George again, and not just a trauma patient” George said. “Slowly, I began to have conversations with the nursing staff and they treated me like a person. For most of the day they were all I saw and the fact that they took time to talk to me and get to know me mattered a lot to me.”
The commitment of the nursing staff to not only care for George physically, but also personally, helped tremendously in his road to recovery.
After his time in the ICU, George underwent a short stent in a local inpatient rehabilitation center to undergo therapy. Afterwards he was released home with orders for biweekly physical and occupational therapy appointments.
In total, George would endure five different surgeries to repair his leg and arm, several days recovering in the hospital and many additional hours of difficult therapy. Through it all, his incredible commitment to return to what life was like prior to the accident, and back into his IRONMAN training, motivated him.
“We often see two types of recovery in patients: those who we have to actively hold back because they’re motivated and might hurt themselves and others who we have to push because they’re the opposite,” Dr. Hutchinson said. “George was someone we had to hold back.”
George’s tenacity to return to what life was like before the accident led him to the gym 5-6 times a week, to defiantly throwing down his cane to force himself to walk independently, and to finishing a 5k in under 30 minutes only a few months major surgery.
“When Dr. Hutchinson told me I wouldn’t be able to compete in the Ironman in November, I shouted ‘UNACCEPTABLE’” George remembers with a laugh. “I’m just happy he didn’t fire me as a patient.”
George credits the amazing love of his family and friends for helping him get through his recovery. He’s also grateful for the straight-forward, honest approach of the doctors who cared for him and the personal touch of TMH’s nursing staff during his long stents in the hospital.
Today, George is still recovering from the accident. He regularly runs up to five miles, swims up to 1000 yards and can stationary bike for up to an hour.
He still has plans to one day compete in an IRONMAN. That’s a fight he’s not ready to give up on.
Like almost everyone who comes to the emergency room, Ed and Linda Huck were scared when they were taken by EMS from a local walk-in clinic to Tallahassee Memorial’s Bixler Emergency Center. Ed was suffering from what they thought was bacterial pneumonia and breathing was becoming more and more difficult.
“I really wasn’t sure I was going to make it,” said Ed.
Thankfully, although frightened, the Hucks found what all families who walk though Tallahassee Memorial’s emergency room doors find: life saving care and compassion.
Ed’s condition took him directly up to the Intermediate Care Unit (IMCU) for constant monitoring. There, hooked up to IVs and a breathing apparatus, Ed met Shana Geil, RN. Shana was administering medication to Ed and stayed in his room to document his chart when things took a turn for the worse. Ed’s fingertips and lips began turning blue – Shana took quick action to ensure Ed was breathing and stabilize him.
“When my patients are critically ill I always stay in the room to monitor them while I chart,” said Shana. “Ed was very sick, so I stayed in the room to keep an eye on him. I’m really glad I did.”
Throughout Ed’s stay, Shana kept a watchful eye. She made sure Ed had everything he needed, including a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine and a humidifier so he could sleep at night. She also became Ed’s resource as he was prescribed more medication.
“Shana saved my life. Her level of professionalism and compassion was amazing. She was an advocate for Linda and I; she even came in at the end of her shift to make sure I was OK before she left. She is an outstanding nurse,” said Ed.
Thankfully, Ed was discharged after about a week in the hospital. He is recovering well, and has a new passion for promoting the kind of care he received from Shana and the nurses at Tallahassee Memorial.
“Not only did I nominate Shana for a Daisy Nursing Award,” said Ed. “But, I’ve also donated to the Tallahassee Memorial Foundation to support training for nurses so that others can receive the same level of care that I did.”
Ed’s donation was hand-delivered when he came back to personally thank Shana, and all the nurses who helped him at TMH.
“I’m not one for the spotlight,” said Shana. “But Ed’s kind words and generosity mean a lot to me. I’ve always treated my patients like they were my own family, it boils down to one simple idea: treat others the way you want to be treated. I’m glad I got to take care of Ed, and I’m proud that he’s supporting the nursing profession as a result.”