Too Young for a Stroke?
Coordinated Care Helped Heal Hidden Hole in Heart
Like many people, Lindsey Sebetic was no stranger to migraine headaches. The throbbing pain usually struck only two or three times a year, and she had medication on hand to help. But the series of migraines she had in July 2012 were different.
"I couldn't see," she says of the first migraine. "I had auras in front of my eyes." Two days later, she had three more – all in one day. The very next day she had yet another migraine – her fifth one in less than a week. It was the worst migraine she'd ever experienced, so she went to the Aurora Health Center in Kenosha to see her primary care doctor, Diana David, MD.
"I thought she would just give me stronger medication," Lindsey says.
But she wasn't suffering from a migraine. At only 22 years of age, Lindsey had just had a stroke.
Hole in Heart Led to Stroke
Dr. David, an internal medicine physician, saw that Lindsey was having difficulty with balance and speaking clearly. She quickly ordered an MRI, which showed that Lindsey had recently had a stroke.
"I didn't think it could be possible," Lindsey recalls. "I played competitive sports my entire life. I was young and in good health. I really only went to the doctor for physicals."
Immediately, Lindsey was transferred to Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center and admitted to the neurological intensive care unit. While at Aurora St. Luke's, Lindsey came under the care of cardiologist Tanvir Bajwa, MD. Dr. Bajwa said Lindsey had a "cryptogenic stroke," meaning it was of an unknown origin.
"This is a CVA – a cerebral vascular accident – without a discernible cause," Dr. Bajwa explained. "Surprisingly, young people are susceptible to this, more than older folks with risk factors for stroke."
Thankfully, Lindsey's stroke had not done any permanent damage. She was started on blood thinners, in case she had another stroke. She also spent two days undergoing tests to determine the cause of her stroke.
The first test was a bubble echocardiogram. During this test, a saline bubble solution is injected through an IV line. The harmless solution makes it way up to the heart, and makes certain heart functions more visible. It highlights problems in the left ventricle, the major pumping area of the heart, along with issues with the valves.
The test was inconclusive, so she had a TEE (transesophageal echocardiogram), in which a camera was inserted down her throat to take pictures of her heart.
Pictures showed a small hole, a patent foramen ovale, located in the upper-left atrium.
Closing the Hole
For Lindsey, and others with heart issues, Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center is truly a destination for medical excellence. "We have an extensive team that works together to decide the best approach to help patients who suffer strokes or transient ischemic attacks – a stroke-like episode that leaves no permanent damage to the brain," Dr. Bajwa states.
Seeing the hole in her heart, Dr. Bajwa and his team presented Lindsey with three options: she could be on medication for the rest of her life; she could have invasive heart surgery; or she could have a device implanted as part of a minimally invasive procedure.
Lindsey carefully weighed each option. "I just didn't want to have to take pills every day for the rest of my life," she explains. But the idea of invasive open-heart surgery was scary. That left the minimally invasive option.
Dr. Bajwa and his team discussed the procedure with Lindsey. "We sat down and he explained every little detail," she says. "I knew I was with the best doctors I could be with."
After the meeting, Lindsey and her mom went home and did their own research online. Reading about others who had a similar heart condition was reassuring. "I had felt like I was the only one," Lindsey says. "But I wasn't."
The choice became clear. With her family's support, Lindsey chose to have the minimally invasive procedure.
On Nov. 29, 2012, Lindsey underwent surgery. She was discharged from the hospital the next day. "I was in bed for a couple weeks, tops," she says.
On Jan. 13, 2013, all Lindsey's restrictions were lifted. Six months after having a stroke, Lindsey had her life back.
A Bright Future
Today, Lindsey is 23 years old and has her entire life ahead of her. She is back at work and is active playing many sports. She occasionally gets headaches, but they have been tapering off, just as her doctors predicted.
Lindsey is thankful for the coordinated care her Aurora doctors provided from start to finish. "I'm so glad Dr. David knew to order the MRI," she says of her experience at the Aurora Health Center in Kenosha.
Lindsey notes that her transfer to Aurora St. Luke's was seamless, and she appreciates the expert care she received from Dr. Bajwa and his team. "Every doctor was supportive. They took the time to make sure I understood what was going on and what the next steps would be. I really felt like they were there for me."
Deb Waller, RN, Dr. Bajwa's nurse, worked closely with Lindsey. Deb was very impressed with Lindsey's attitude and perspective during such a trying time. "Often I have recalled the statement 'character counts.' She has composure and judgment that rival anyone of any age."
Lindsey also credits her support network outside Aurora with helping her stay strong during a difficult time. "My coworkers were great. My family and friends – I always had someone to talk to, call or email every day." Lindsey is especially thankful for her boyfriend, Mike, and her mom's support. "They were the two people that were there for me at all times, whatever hour of the day, through absolutely everything."
With her stroke behind her, and her hole in her heart closed, Lindsey is excited for her future.
"Now I can move on with my life," Lindsey says. "That's all I really wanted."
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