When he accompanied his wife to an appointment with her doctor at the Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in late February, Joseph Debiase of Wilkes-Barre tried to ask a question … and suddenly found he couldn’t talk.
As the 66-year-old retired truck driver choked out a few sputtering sounds, the physician recognized signs of a possible stroke and sent Debiase to the emergency room.
A dose of a clot-dissolving drug known as t-PA wasn’t enough to stop the stroke, so Debiase was taken to the medical center’s new interventional radiology suite, where neurosurgeon Dr. Clemens Schirmer performed a neuro endovascular mechanical thrombectomy.
The delicate procedure involved inserting a catheter into the groin and guiding it all the way to Debiase’s brain, where Schirmer used it to clear a clot from a tiny artery.
“Do you see this loop?” Schirmer asked the patient during a recent follow-up visit.
Pointing to the image of a coiled blood vessel on a CT scan image of Debiase’s brain, the neurosurgeon said, “That was the culprit, the bane of my existence.”
After people reach their full height, Schirmer said, “We don’t grow taller, but our blood vessels continue to elongate.”
That continued expansion can lead to looping or coiling of a vessel, which in this case complicated the thrombectomy.
Despite the added complexity, Schirmer was able to remove the clot and open the blood vessel in time to prevent permanent damage.
“The next day, my speech came back,” Debiase said, remembering how Andrew Raposo, the registered nurse who coordinates the stroke program at Geisinger Wyoming Valley, was surprised to find him speaking so soon.
Debiase, who medical center spokesman Matthew Van Stone said is the first patient to benefit from this procedure at the Geisinger Wyoming Valley facility, has had some therapy and is walking just fine.
On a recent return visit to Geisinger, Debiase held out his arms, touched his fingers to his nose and showed he could perform other simple tasks.
“I feel like I won the lottery,” he said, explaining he feels fortunate because his stroke took place at a medical facility where help was close at hand and may well have saved his life. “I call it my miracle on the mountain.”
Once a person has a stroke, there is usually a two- to three-hour window before permanent damage takes place, said Schirmer, who trained at Tufts University and Harvard in Massachusetts as well as at the University of Heidelberg and the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich Faculty of Medicine in Germany.
Those few hours in late February were a tense time for Elizabeth Debiase, who said during a recent interview she worried about doing the right thing for her husband of nearly 45 years.
Looking back, she’s glad she found the courage to sign the consent form on his behalf.
“He takes care of me,” she said softly, giving her husband a grateful glance as she explained she’s undergoing cancer treatments.
Debiase reached over and squeezed his wife’s hand.
And suddenly there were a lot of teary eyes in the room.