Surviving a Stroke Thanks to Rapid Expert Care
Ron Craycraft survived a stroke thanks to the quick actions of his wife, Pam, and the expert care he received at Henry Ford Brownstown and Henry Ford Hospital.
After multiple health issues, this pastor is counting his blessings
Autumn of 2021 started off tricky. Then it got complicated. By Christmas time, Ron Craycraft, a 71-year-old pastor from Flat Rock, MI, had already faced three serious health issues, and now he was feeling pretty good. But the morning after Christmas, as Ron was simply standing in his bathroom, his hairbrush fell out of his hands, then his water bottle fell. His words were stuck. He had no clue what was happening. But Ron’s wife, Pam, realized what was happening and she quickly jumped into action.
8:15 a.m. Ron seems dazed. He’s not responding when Pam asks if he’s OK. She’s seen stroke patients in the outpatient rehab department at Henry Ford Hospital-Wyandotte, where she works as a clerical lead. Pam calls 911.
Sirens on and lights flashing, the ambulance speeds Ron to the emergency room at Henry Ford Health Center-Brownstown. A dedicated stroke team will quickly diagnose and treat the stroke in progress.
9:10 a.m. Ron is wheeled into the stroke care area of the emergency room. The fast-acting triage team performs a quick neurologic assessment. An IV line is started. Blood is drawn. CT scans are done. Everything points to a stroke caused by a clot blocking a large artery in Ron’s brain. His face is drooping now. His right arm and leg are weak.
Pam arrives at the hospital, praying, “Please give him the clot-busting shot!” To restore blood flow to the brain, an injection of a medication designed to dissolve blood clots can be given up to four and a half hours from the onset of stroke symptoms. The sooner the better. Pam keeps checking the clock.
9:35 a.m. Ron receives the medication shortly after arriving in the emergency room. The drug alone successfully opens the blood vessel in about one out of four patients. Because the clot is blocking a large vessel, Ron’s best chance for recovery will involve a procedure called thrombectomy to remove the clot and restore blood flow. Ron will be transferred to Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.
The EMS team loads Ron into the ambulance, then weaves through traffic to downtown Detroit where a neurointerventional team is waiting for him.
10:42 a.m. Ron is in the emergency room downtown. Additional CT scans are quickly taken to determine the stroke’s progression. The new images look promising. Ron is wheeled into the neurointerventional procedure room, prepared for surgery and receives anesthesia. Horia Marin, M.D., a specialist in cerebrovascular disease and interventional neuroradiology, is leading the team. Dr. Marin is ready to insert a guidewire into the femoral artery at the base of Ron’s leg. He will navigate a small catheter to the blocked vessel in Ron’s brain and remove the clot. Everything must be done quickly.
11:03 a.m. The blood vessel is opened, and Dr. Marin pulls the blood clot out without a struggle.
11:15 a.m. Surgery is complete.
“Because blood flow was restored so quickly by removing the clot, Ron didn’t have the brain damage he was at risk for. He had an arterial blockage which usually results in a major stroke and disability if the blockage is not removed quickly,” says Dr. Marin.
Although the timeframe for a “clot-busting” drug has been expanded to 4.5 hours from stroke onset, and the timeframe for a mechanical thrombectomy is up to 24 hours, the best outcome for an evolving stroke always involves taking immediate action.
“Ron’s wife reacted very promptly and appropriately. The faster you get to the hospital, the better it is,” Dr. Marin states. “We have a very well-established system to treat acute stroke patients and to avoid disabilities. Everyone knows their role, and we move very quickly.”
“I was so impressed with the stroke unit,” says Pam. “They showed kindness and compassion to all the patients. There was so much encouraging inspiration.” Just 48 hours after the stroke, Ron was resting in his own home. Strength had returned to his arm and leg, and his speech function was slowly returning.
But blood tests performed while he was in the ER showed anemia, a condition in which the blood doesn't have enough healthy red blood cells, and because a nurse had observed blood in his stool, Ron was strongly advised to schedule a colonoscopy. The results of Ron’s colonoscopy revealed a malignant colon tumor, which was the likely source of Ron’s anemia and potentially was a culprit for the stroke. After the tumor was removed, Ron received chemotherapy for six months.
Comprehensive care for complex conditions
Before being treated for stroke, Ron was no stranger to Henry Ford Health. In the fall of 20212, he experienced an unfortunate series of health issues that required specialized care. For a year prior to his stroke, he’d been having intense and intermittent lower abdominal pain. First, a urethra stone was removed in October, followed by surgery for an enlarged prostate. Then in November he had hernia surgery. In December, abdominal pain often kept Ron awake at night, and he was struggling to control his high blood pressure. Then the stroke occurred. Finally – after the malignant colon tumor was removed in January – Ron was free of pain and on his way to improved health.
These days, when Ron’s not writing books, he’s enjoying visits from his six adult children and 13 grandchildren. He wears an implanted loop recorder to monitor his heart, and there’s a monitor at his bedside collecting information to determine the exact cause of the stroke.
“I’m stronger now. I was always kind and supportive, but I relate better now to sick people and appreciate what they’re going through,” says Ron, who recently wrote a book about healing.
“I give all the credit to my wife who kept me going, and to the doctors. Henry Ford is the best. Everyone I saw in the hospital was very positive. In turn, I felt more positive with God,” says Ron who teaches at Forecast for Life church in Southgate.
“As a pastor, I encounter some people who think the worst is going to happen. You have to tell people there’s hope – they’re going to be better and something good is going to happen. It really helps to keep people encouraged even though circumstances are bad,” says Ron.
Pam also offers advice: In medical emergencies, you may wonder if you should call for an ambulance. “If your husband says ‘no’, you say ‘yes!’ You call 911,” she says. “I prayed and trusted God, but God made doctors and nurses, and we need them and our faith.”
Finally, if you’re a caregiver, it’s important to get emotional or physical help for yourself after a loved one’s emergency or chronic illness. Caregiver support and resources..