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Eye on Health: A stroke victim’s story of survival and recovery

Bob Freeze and his wife, Harriett. The Mishawaka couple have been married 59 years.

Bob Freeze was unpacking bags of groceries at home one day when he suddenly fell to the floor. He knew what he wanted to say, but he couldn’t talk. Instead of words, only a noise came out of his mouth. He couldn’t move the entire left side of his body.

“I didn’t know what was going on,” he said.

But his wife, Harriett, knew.

Realizing her husband could be having a stroke, she immediately asked a family member to 911. Over the years, Harriett says she has heard about the importance of getting help as quickly as possible.

“I just knew he had to get to a doctor, and he had to do it now,” she said in an interview with WSBT-TV for Eye on Health. You can view the story in its entirety below this story.

When help arrived at their Mishawaka home, Harriett said her husband of 59 years was not responding. Bob remembers feeling cold when first responders were taking him to the emergency room, and he remembers seeing the doctor, Dr. Jose Luis Lopez, when he arrived at Memorial Hospital of South Bend.

“He knew exactly what to do,” the stroke victim said of the medical director of the Beacon Stroke Program.

Because his wife and family acted so fast, Bob was able to receive a powerful clot-busting medication called TNK, short for tenecteplase, which can help break up blockages in the arteries. There is only a 4 1/2 hour time window during which a stroke patient can receive this clot-dissolving medication safely.

Bob remembers going in and out of consciousness at the hospital. “I remember someone saying I’d had a stroke,” he said. “The next thing I knew I was in the CT scan and then they rushed me down the hallway. Then I don’t remember anything until I was in the ICU.”

During that time, an interventional radiologist performed a thrombectomy, a procedure that is only done regionally at Beacon Health System. The intervention involves surgically removing the remaining clot from an artery leading to the brain.

The surgery proved successful.

So successful, in fact, that today — several weeks since he collapsed — Bob shows no physical signs that he ever suffered a stroke.

Last Friday, he threw out the first pitch for the South Bend Cubs during the annual “Strike Out Stroke” game during May, which is National Stroke Awareness Month.

Lopez said a concerted effort is necessary among multiple care providers as soon as possible when someone is showing signs of a stroke to ensure the best outcome for the patient. Signs of a stroke may include the loss of balance and being unable to speak or move the arms or legs. The person also may experience blurred vision and one side of their face might be drooping.

Everyone has to be working together as a team, starting with EMS providers who arrive at a patient’s home. “Then it’s important for first responders to alert the emergency department when they’re on their way to the hospital, so the Stroke Team can be waiting for the patient,” Lopez said.

“Every minute counts.”

Harriett is so glad Bob turned out OK. “Because I love him,” she said softly with tears in her eyes.

“But it was scary. It was scary for me,” Harriett said. “It made me nervous because I wanted him to be OK. And he was and is and I’m thankful. We’re all thankful for the doctors who knew what to do.”

Bob looked lovingly at Harriett and smiled.

“She has been my provider and my anchor, she’s my hero.”

Click here to learn much more about the Beacon Stroke Team and stroke care provided by our Beacon specialists.

Beacon offers a wide range of primary care providers who can help you take care of your day-to-day health and give you access to advanced care when needed. Click here to learn more or to find a primary care provider.